Michigan divides its linebackers in its meetings, so we’re doing the same here. Today, we’re looking at the middle linebackers and weakside linebackers. The unit was arguably the most consistent group of any -- on both sides of the ball --- this season for the Wolverines. For a team that went through a very up-and-down season, the linebackers were one of the few bright spots that remained bright (almost) all season.
THE GOOD: Three of the Wolverines’ top five tacklers this season were Will and Mike linebackers -- James Ross III, Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden. The three combined for 114 solo tackles and 14 tackles for a loss. They were the core of the defense and, behind a defensive line that didn’t get pressure consistently, they held their own. Freshman Ben Gedeon also got significant playing time late in the season and that experience will be huge for him moving forward. In his limited time he recorded 19 tackles and one sack and showed major potential. Additionally, this is a group that’ll have time to build chemistry during the spring and fall seasons as each member in the three-deep will return.
THE BAD: This isn’t completely the linebackers’ fault, but Michigan struggled against the run this season. The Wolverines’ 3.8 yards per rush allowed is actually the same as last season, and they allowed 10 rushing yards less per game in 2013 than in 2012. But it was the sixth best in the Big Ten behind Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. And if the Wolverines want to be elite and compete for Big Ten titles, stopping the run is key. Michigan allowed 64 runs for 10 or more yards and 36 percent of opponents’ runs against it went for at least five yards. Michigan allowed five more rushing touchdowns this season than it did last season, and in clutch games against Ohio State (8.5 yards per rush) and Kansas State (4.1 yards per rush), the Wolverines struggled against the run. Obviously if the defensive line was able to get more pressure, the linebackers wouldn’t be called upon to make as many plays as they needed to this season. But stopping the run falls on the linebackers and they didn’t live up to the “expectation of the position.”
THE FUTURE: All significant contributors from 2013 return next season so the future looks bright. On top of that, Michael Ferns enrolled early and at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, he’s a player who doesn’t have to go through a huge physical change before he’s able to start competing for time. The Wolverines also have a 2014 commitment from linebacker Noah Furbush (6-4, 235 pounds), another prospect who is a physical, hard nosed linebacker. This is a position at which the Wolverines have built very good depth and a position that will continue to have skilled players through the next few seasons.