Michigan Football: Spring Game Analysis of the Linebackers
So, it has been known that the Michigan linebacker corps will be both inexperienced and thin as the 2017 season unfolds. There was some progress made in recruiting. But like the offensive line group, there absolutely must be two or three home runs hit in the 2018 recruiting class. On top of that, the new 2017 recruits must pan out beyond 2017.
It would be a misnomer to declare the Spring Game as a sound evaluation tool for linebacker play analysis and forecasting. The defensive line plugged power holes up the middle and the passing game was partially disassembled by the wind and mediocre young receiver play.
Michigan used many spread looks in the Spring Game, so at least the coaches have some prognostication as to whether or not the 2017 crew is indeed an upgrade in speed and coverage. There will remain a question mark about how well the linebackers support in neutralizing a power run game some Big Ten teams still employ. Linebackers in this era will see both types of offenses (spread and power) and must be truly high level athletes and defenders to be three down players. The hurry up offense can isolate and take advantage of linebacker shortcomings. Michigan will be tested by Air Force for assignment execution and gap integrity.
Michigan lost one very good athlete, Ben Gedeon to graduation. He was recently drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. The combo linebacker/box safety/viper, Jabrill Peppers, was selected in the first round by the NFL team from Cleveland.
The only sure piece left is the hard-working Mike McCray, a fifth year senior who has undergone and overcome much along his pathway and career to becoming a solid college player. He almost certainly will undertake the middle Mike assignment. Here is an example of a guy who has simply improved each and every year he has been healthy enough to see the field. Mike should be a leader and will be given responsibility over the defense while on he field.
Chase Winovich is listed as a defensive end, but in Coach Brown’s mind, Chase has enough versatility to be listed as a potential hybrid. He has experience and his role is to rush and make plays.
Devin Bush is indeed very athletic and is the type of player coaches envision as a linebacker that can play against both the power and spread schemes. He is a little short, but his combination of good speed, hitting ability, and instinct should result in a linebacker that improves from a basic starter to all league consideration the next two or three years.
The Viper concept and personnel seems to be a little up in the air. The favorites are Josh Meltellus, Khaleke Hudson, and Josh Ache. All three are versatile enough to play Viper or other roles. All are good athletes, hitters, and, albeit, like Peppers small for a traditional linebacker.
Noah Furbush is another guy who could serve as a hybrid defensive end and linebacker. He has come out of nowhere to see the field.
Some of you may have seen a guy named Mike Wroblewski on the field. Do not sell his ability to reinforce the starters short. Guys like Mike can spell or step up if needed. He may have to be the gap filler/insurance policy until the freshmen pass him up.
So, now on we go to a discussion of the newcomers of the class of 2017, namely, Ben Mason, Drew Singleton, Josh Ross, and Jordan Anthony.
Ben Mason by some was thought to be a recruit told he would play linebacker and end up at fullback. Stand beside this guy; he is big, almost huge, far bigger than the other three linebacker recruits. He will need plenty of time to learn the Mike techniques and responsibilities. Ben is not ready to step up to the top level, not even close. But he seems to be a guy who likes to hit and has decent speed for a Mike. He certainly has the size. Those who proclaimed his signing as one of those staff “mistakes” may themselves end up having the mistake in judgement. He will have to compete well to break into the top two tiers the next two years, but he has a real chance.
Josh Ross is a slightly bigger version of his brother. He needs time, strength, conditioning, and experience, probably first on special teams, to make the field sooner rather than later.
The two headliners of the linebacker class, Jordan Anthony and Drew Singleton received mixed reviews from the scouting services. Both were heavily, even fiercely, recruited by Michigan. Fans, naturally, have held out hope that the two could come in and immediately help plug Michigan’s depth and talent level difficulties at linebacker. That is more of a smoky hope than reality. Neither is close to massive, but both are athletic. Both are candidates for growth in weight and strength. Both are athletic and fast enough to become good special team players right out of the gate. We will all see by early season if either gets actual meaningful time on the field as a backup, becomes a dedicated special team player, or redshirts. The bet here is the redshirt option is a low likelihood unless injury intercedes.
Jordan Anthony, a graduate of the famed IMG football factory, is, like Josh Ross, a little on the small side at 6’0” and around 220 pounds. But boy does he look like a guy who can play football. Jordan was ranked as a five star and a middle four star prospect, and from around 25th to 150th nationally. But, essentially Jordan is a top one hundred recruit, the type many of today’s top programs recruit to be starters. Jordan played the middle and roamed pretty well against spread formations.
Drew Singleton is taller and more versatile compared to Jordan Anthony. Like Jordan, Drew is a pretty good downhill linebacker who can also go sideline to sideline. Drew’s offer list included many Big Ten and SEC top schools. Being from Paramus Catholic, and having former Paramus head Coach Chris Partridge on board the Michigan football staff, Drew chose Michigan. He is coming off of a senior season ACL injury, but still was rated as a high four star recruit from around a 50th to 100 ranking nationally.
Drew brings possibilities at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and perhaps even the Viper spot. Coach Brown will have a guy who can become a top blitzer and serve Brown’s need for overall versatility. Drew may be one of those rare guys who can play equally well against power and spread offenses and be a true three down linebacker. Like the others, Drew will need strength and time to grasp the system. But like Anthony, Singleton, if the knee is 100%, is one of Michigan’s best athletes and in the Harbaugh system he will find a way onto the field as a freshman.