U-M adds to LB corps wealth with '14 class

On the Michigan football team, the rich just keep getting richer.

The linebacking corps, which was arguably the deepest and most consistent position group this season, signed three more talented prospects on Wednesday and has an early enrollment already on campus in Michael Ferns.

Besides Ferns, the Wolverines picked up Noah Furbush, Chase Winovich and Jared Wangler.

Those four, in addition to the wealth the position already has, is very good news for the Wolverines. Between Desmond Morgan, James Ross III, Joe Bolden and Ben Gedeon at middle and weakside linebacker, and Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker, the 2014 class might not see a ton of early playing time, but it definitely gives the coaching staff plenty of options.

“I like their attitudes,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said of the 2014 signees. “I like how they attack the game.”

What he’ll really like, however, is how versatile each player seems to be. Hoke said he could see Furbush playing the middle or weakside linebacker position, while Ferns seems set at middle linebacker. Wangler, because of his athleticism and experience in high school (he also played safety) could play weakside linebacker or be moved over to strongside linebacker, which is where the staff anticipates Winovich will play.

However, all of this is just projection until the coaches are really able to spend time with each player. Ferns is on campus for spring football, so the coaches will have a good idea on his position, but the staff will have to wait for fall camp on the other three.

With how much the coaches relied on Ryan last season after returning from his ACL injury, and how much they expect him to improve during the offseason, that will be a very interesting position to watch. Brennen Beyer, who played the first few games at SAM, will be back and could take reps at the spot to give Ryan a break, but that job could also go to the youth.

“You can go about your SAM linebacker two different ways,” Hoke said. “You can go with a guy who has long arms and has a lot of range on him playing over a tight end. If you’re playing more 4-3 then you don’t have to have that kind of guy, or if you are still playing in an under front your SAM can play a bit wider, like the Vikings used to play. ... We have to see them running around a little bit and see what they do best.”

Furbush is the biggest of the signees at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds. Hoke recalled the story of how he played his senior season with a cast on his arms before cutting it off by himself with hedge trimmers. Like Furbush, Winovich is also 6-4, but he’s a bit lighter at 215 pounds. Though Winovich is lighter, Hoke said his physical build reminds him of Ryan.

Ferns is shorter still at 6-3, 228 pounds. He weighs in similarly to Ross and Morgan but is two inches taller than both of them. Wangler is 6-1, 215 pounds.

Combined, the linebacking corps this season accounted for 31 tackles for a loss, including 12.5 sacks. The group also tallied nine pass break ups and seven quarterback hurries.

With all but Cam Gordon returning there might not be a ton of reps available for the 2014 class, but the coaches will play younger players if they step up enough, and the coaches certainly feel confident about this class. Even if they aren’t going to be players that start or contribute immediately, this class brings a tremendous amount of depth to the linebackers.