Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Season Countdown: #6 Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan
Name: Jake Ryan
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 236 lbs.
High school: Cleveland (OH) St. Ignatius
Position: Linebacker
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #47
Last year: I ranked Ryan #24 and said he would be the starting SAM when he returned from injury with 35 tackles and 3 sacks. He started five games and made 30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 pass breakup.

I went into 2013 calling Ryan Michigan's best defensive player. He was Second Team all-conference in 2012, but a springtime torn ACL delayed his debut last season. He returned to play a part-time role in the Penn State game in mid-October, but like Whoopi Goldberg standing in for Patrick Swayze, it just wasn't the same. Ryan played in eight games, but was only deemed capable of starting five. Cameron Gordon did an okay job in his stead, but the front seven lacked a playmaker except for an occasional burst from Frank Clark. Ryan still managed to be named Michigan's top linebacker, but those statistics aren't super impressive. We knew it was going to be a disappointing season for him because of the injury, and . . . well . . . we weren't disappointed. In our disappointment.

To start this season, Ryan will be 1.5 years removed from his ACL tear and should have few lingering effects. He has bumped over to middle linebacker in Michigan's 4-3 Over, previously having been a SAM in the Under defense. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has taken over coaching the linebackers, and the staff wants Ryan to be able to play sideline to sideline. Word out of practice is that he has taken to the switch, and I thought Ryan was more of a prototypical middle linebacker when he came out of high school. I'm excited to see what he can do in the middle. At times in the past, he has done an excellent job of blitzing on the interior, and those opportunities should become more frequent this season. The flip side of my excitement is that Michigan has done an excellent job of recruiting linebackers over the past few seasons, and there are capable replacements on the roster. Senior Desmond Morgan has been a three-year starter - though he seems to be getting benched in favor of junior Joe Bolden - and sophomore Ben Gedeon showed flashes of brilliance late last year. Ryan should have a good year himself, but the defense would not be totally destroyed if he were lost for a stretch.

Prediction: Starting middle linebacker; 75 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3 sacks


  1. Nice post as always.

    I love Jake Ryan, but I do agree completely with your last comment. "the defense would not be totally destroyed if he were lost for a stretch."

    I can't remember the game but it was one of Gedeon's first for getting any real playing time. the D line was doing a less than stellar job of soaking up blocking and Gedeon was getting hit ... but ..... Damn, the kid just stood that guy right up ..... He did it again ..... Again.

    I told my kid, "Watch Gedeon, he might be special." I continue to think that.

    1. Gedeon is going to be something special. He can top Ryan, and that's really saying something.

    2. I agree the Gedeon might be special. He and Ferns make me optimistic that we can replace Ryan adequately next year..but neither of them are near Ryan's level right now.

  2. Too low! It's been a while since I disagreed with a ranking so I had to use an exclamation.

    Morgan is good, but he can't replace what Ryan brings. There are simply no other playmakers at LB right now. Nobody has his athleticism, decisiveness, aggressiveness. Ryan is a special talent and one of the few all-american caliber players we have on D right now (Clark and Countess are the others). He's the only guy that NFL scouts are eyeing intently.

    If Ryan is hurt the chances of our D being a top 15 unit nationally are out the window. Can't say that about anyone else on the D except Clark. But Clark isn't the proven performer that Ryan is. Don't let the hobbled 2013 season make you forget how good Ryan can be.

    1. My feeling is that Ryan is one of the guys we need to be great this year. Not good, but great. We've got depth and a lot of solid talent, but it's tough to field a top-notch defense without any elite playmakers. There are a few other guys who could be great, but none have been as close to that level as Ryan.

      That being said, I'd be a little reluctant to write off our defense completely if he got hurt. People seriously downgraded the chances of our Bball team last year after they started 8-4 and lost McGary, with essentially NO replacement for him, but other guys stepped up and we ended up even better. Very few guys on a defense are irreplaceable.

    2. I agree. We'll be OK without Ryan - but that's true for anyone on the D. Clark and Wilson are the only other two guys that would be tough to replace, but IMO the step down from Ryan to the lesser of Morgan/Bolden is bigger than the step down from Clark to Ojemudia or Wilson to Countess/Lewis (next man in from the secondary).

      Everybody likes Ryan, but like Gallon last year, I think people are under-appreciating just how good he is.

  3. I don't care how capable your backups are, Ryan is a potential All-American. Clark is not, Funchess is not, Countess is not. The only other guy who is a legitimate threat talentwise is Gardner and that's HIGHLY unlikely given the numbers some of the other guys will put up.

    If I was as confident in Morris as many others are, I'd put Ryan number 1.

    1. I disagree. I think all of those guys have the potential to be All-Americans. I don't necessarily think any of them will be, but Clark finished the 2013 season well, Funchess could be this year's Jeremy Gallon, and Countess could get there with 1 or 2 more picks. Gardner, too, could get there if Nussmeier uses his running ability. If he ends up with, let's say, 33 passing touchdowns and another 10 on the ground, that's a possibility.

      Again, I'm not saying that those players WILL be that good, but I think you're overestimating Ryan and underestimating some other players on the team.

    2. Well, I guess you're right that they CAN be. You never know, but I doubt it.

      Clark was too far away in 2013 to be a legit candidate. With a nice senior jump he's in the all-conference 1st team along with Gregory or Spence, but still off some of the national elite. I've read some NFL draft stuff and he'd not in the top 5 discussion.

      Funchess could have a very nice year, but I'm not buying the 4.3 40 talk one bit. He proved me wrong last year when I questioned him having WR speed, so maybe he'll do it again. Still, I look at Beckham-Green types (though he is suspended) and I don't think Funchess is on that level talent-wise. Plus, like with Gardner, the OL and system are going to keep his numbers from being really eye-popping. Gallon set records for Michigan and still wasn't in the all-american discussion.

      Funchess might have a weaker OL and well get more defensive attention (because a) he is big and b) he doesn't have another Funchess for defenses to watch.) the scheme will still be conservative and slow-paced compared to the highlight-machines at Oregon, TAMU, etc.

      Ryan's a guy who could be an elite player on an elite unit. Without him, they have no chance of reaching those heights. Maybe I'm overrating him, but I don't think so. If you take that sophomore year, remove the injury, and imagine what a healthy 2013 looks like with typical improvement from 3rd to 4th year - you have a guy that I think everyone is going nuts about heading into 5th year.

      If MIKE fits his skills like we hope, he could be one of the best in the country and one of the best Michigan has ever had.

      I do see the uncertainty here. With the change in position and scheme he could face a learning curve but...I don't think so. He's a gifted athlete when you consider his size, strength and ability to change direction on a dime. His talents will translate well, I believe. The bigger question, for him, is how good the DTs are at soaking up blockers and forced those OL double-teams to hold for an extra beat. I have faith in Mattison there.

    3. and countess might not even hold on to his job...or move to safety...

      His INT numbers were very good, but it's highly unlikely he repeats them, even if he does improve his coverage.

  4. I actually think Ryan is ranked a tad too high. Gedeon looked really good last year, and I think he was starter material. Our LBs are super deep all over the place, losing one while it would hurt, the slack can be picked up elsewhere.

    1. Although I do think you're right in that LB is our deepest spot and we could lose a LB and rebound well, I think you're underestimating Ryan's ability and overestimating Gedeons ability. Ryan has probably the most potential to be a major playmaker this year, especially if our DTs allow him some freedom to attack from the the middle. If Gedeon was ready to make an immediate impact, the coaches would have moved him to WLB and moved one of Bolden or Morgan over. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite excited about Gedeon and think he will so quite well next year, but Ryan is elite now. If we weren't so deep at LB, Thunder would probably have him higher on the list.