|Desmond Morgan (#48) returns an interception against UConn|
Weight: 232 lbs.
High school: Holland (MI) West Ottawa
Jersey number: #48
Last year: I ranked Morgan #13 and said he would be the starting middle linebacker with 85 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. He started at middle linebacker and finished the year with 79 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 pass breakups.
I expected a little more consistent play out of Morgan in 2013, who has been starting since his true freshman year. While he essentially reached the statistical level that I predicted, he did not seem to take a big step forward in play diagnosis. I thought he would really settle in at MIKE linebacker after playing out of position as a WILL for the previous couple years; however, Michigan struggled to stop the run consistently, and some small and/or underperforming defensive tackles didn't help the linebackers much. Regardless, Morgan did have a solid year, and his leaping, one-handed interception against UConn was a game-changer.
Even though he's one of only a few seniors in 2014, I'm dropping Morgan nine spots to #22 on this list. The new 4-3 Over defense has bumped Morgan back to WILL, and he's now receiving a challenge from junior up-and-comer Joe Bolden, who impressed people in the spring after a 54-tackle, 2-sack sophomore year. Coaches need to balance team chemistry, leadership, and talent, so it would be difficult to bench a senior, three-year starter with a Gerald Ford Legends jersey. At the same time, Brady Hoke and company need to win games. Aside from the battle for strong safety, the weakside linebacker position battle looks like the most interesting job competition going into the fall. Whichever player wins the gig should do fairly well, and the backup will get plenty of time in the linebacker rotation, anyway. My guess is that Morgan wins out by a nose for the starting job.
Prediction: Starting weakside linebacker; 80 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
Didn't seem like Morgan or the 2nd year LB's took much of a step forward last year. Bolden seems to be a coach favorite, and some spring practice observers have been touting improvement in his case. No matter who starts, I think we'll see Morgan and Bolden splitting snaps. Even though Morgan does not fit the prototype for a WLB, he may be more comfortable there than he was in the middle. If the DL is more solid this season as expected, I could see guys like Morgan and Ross looking much better in '14.ReplyDelete
Agreed. Bolden, Ross and Morgan all appear to have topped out, after seeing significant playing time in their first year. RJS hasn't done much of anything in two years, and I'm not convinced he'll take much of a leap in 2014. I would not be surprised if Gedeon surpasses all of those guys by the end of the season. Unfortunately, he may be stuck behind Ryan (who we really need to have a huge year), but we'll see.Delete
I agree Thunder as we all know Morgan has limitations and likely has hit his ceiling which is why Bolden has and will see significant playing time.ReplyDelete
That said, he is one of our few Seniors and should start and provide Leadership that is sorely needed. I have a feeling he will actually have less success statistically than in the past years but that should not be considered a negative rather a statement that Bolden and the other LB's are improving so much. It is a good thing in balance.
Morgan has been a Thunder favorite for a long time and I like his game as well. Last year I argued he was overrated, but I think this analysis is right. I actually put him a few spots higher (18) but if one thinks Bolden might overtake him, this is good.ReplyDelete
I don't think Morgan (and the other returning starters) have topped out. I've seen a lot of players make a bit of a leap during their senior season, knowing it's their last chance. I doubt Bolden beats him out, but he may steal snaps. Gedeon looks very promising too and may push the vets as well.
The only part I disagree with is this being a particularly interesting position battles. Both Bolden and Morgan have proven to be pretty solid players. Bolden is younger and has more upside, but this isn't going to change the fate of the defense.
I don't see any of these guys (Morgan, Bolden, Ross) making a big physical transformation at this point. They all have size/bulk limitations that they have to live with. But all three can speed up their games mentally, especially Bolden and Ross. Where the heck are Ross' lightening-quick diagnosing skills that he flashed in HS? Agree that all of these guys will play a good chunk of snaps, but being named the starter is not as important here than some other positions.Delete
The interesting part, to me, is seeing how Morgan/Bolden play and how snaps are allotted. If Bolden has taken a leap forward, does the senior Morgan - wearing a Legends jersey - get benched? Or has the challenge from Bolden forced Morgan to step up his game? Not only from a performance perspective, it might be kind of a test of Hoke/Mattison.
The idea that these guys have size limitations is misleading and erroneous. If you look at linebackers around the country, they're in the same size range. I looked at MSU's linebackers a month or two ago, and with the exception of one guy (IIRC), Michigan is on par with or bigger than their linebackers. This isn't the 1990's when linebackers had to be 245 lbs. This is a faster, more passing-oriented game, and lots and lots of linebackers in 4-3 defenses are in the 220-235 lb. range.
@PS. I agree about physically being maxed, but it's the mental/effort side that can take a leap. Comfort in being a vet, comfort in knowing what your role is, just going out and making plays, being a leader etc. Some guys don't do that till they are seniors. Morgan has always seemed like a maximizie-his-abilities type, so I dont expect him to be an all-american, but I don't think his performance has topped out.Delete
I think you see flashes from Ross, but so far he's managed to get himself blocked too easily. He does look quick at times. He's just not consistent yet. I don't think people should be down on him at all.
@Thunder. That makes sense, but I'd be pretty surprised if Morgan lost his starting job. And even if he did he'd still play a significant role, so I don't see it as mattering too much. I guess I just don't see a lot of variability here. We are going to get solid but not spectacular play either way, and I don't think the 'politics' are a major storyline. Even if, hypothetically, Ferns Gedeon and Bolden all surge and force Morgan into a bench role.
I completely agree about the size thing, but it seems our coaching staff keeps saying they want to get bigger...I don't think they are right but they keep mentioning it and recruiting to it.
Regarding size limitations, I was just pointing out that I don't think any of them has a lot of further growth potential due to body types. And that is unfortunate because I see some strength issues across the board when taking on run blocks or blitzing. But while they may not improve much in terms of strength, there's still plenty of room to improve in play recognition.Delete
So, if they bring in another CB (which most people expect to happen frequently against all these spread teams we face), which LB comes out? Not Ryan at MLB, so is it Ross or Morgan? In the under it was often the SAM from what I remember - is it the same for the over?ReplyDelete
Usually, it would still be the SAM linebacker, but it matters less in an Over defense than an Under defense. In Michigan's Under defense, they would take out the SAM (or shift him to WDE, replacing a DE). In the Over defense, you can just pick your best combo (run stopper vs. coverage) guy and leave him in there, since all three linebackers are basically inside-the-box players. Personally, I think Morgan has shown more coverage awareness, so I would be inclined to leave him in there with Jake Ryan.Delete
Makes sense. I think they seemed to prefer Bolden in pass-oriented situations last year. Maybe they will view him as the best coverage option beside Ryan, but I could also see Gedeon out there as he seemed like the most physically promising of our LB group.Delete
Here's the thing about our LB size: While I totally agree with Thunder that other teams have similarly sized LBs who are successful, Mattison has been adamant that we need to get bigger at LB. He said it on signing day, and it seems to be reflected in recent recruiting.ReplyDelete
All of the LB just got to 230-240 except for Ross who is at 227. Mattison probably wanted them to put that weight on. He probably wanted a little more muscle on them and everyone seems to have gotten there. Granted McCray and Gedeon are a little bigger but Wrangler was smaller and Furbush was pretty thin.Delete