2011 Countdown: #27 Jake Ryan

2011 Countdown: #27 Jake Ryan

August 4, 2011
Jake Ryan

Name: Jake Ryan
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 224 lbs.
High school: St. Ignatius High School in Westlake, OH
Position: Linebacker
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #37
Last year: I ranked Ryan #80 and said he would redshirt.  He redshirted.

Ryan came out of high school as a bit of a wild card.  Some thought he would be an outside linebacker, some thought he would play MIKE, and some thought he would outgrow the linebacker position altogether and put his hand down as a defensive end.  He was too light and too raw to play last season, but toward the end of the year and during bowl practices, Ryan really started to make a name for himself.

He continued that momentum in the spring and made a push for the starting SAM linebacker position, which is part edge rusher.  Both of the candidates for SAM have some shortcomings; Cam Gordon is a little too wiry, and Ryan lacks technique.  But over the summer, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison made a comment like, “Ryan doesn’t have any technique, but then you look up and he’s making sacks.”  He might be one of those kids who just has a natural ability to make plays.  In limited playing time back in the spring game, Ryan made a sack and returned a Devin Gardner interception for a touchdown.  He’s a little bigger than Gordon (who’s a former safety) but a little less athletic, so whoever gets the call at SAM from play to play, series to series, quarter to quarter, or game to game might depend on whether the opponent’s strength is running or passing.

Prediction: Backup SAM; 40 tackles, 2 sacks


  1. Comments: 21383
    Meeechigan Dan
    Aug 04, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    I live a few minutes from the Ryan family, and my sons are debating whether they will go to St. Ignatius (Ryan's school) or St. Ed's (Kalis's school). The Ryan family has an excellent pedigree – lots of boys; the younger brother is the starting LB at Ignatius this fall, the older plays at a mid-major. The dad played in college.

    Point being, I think there is something to the "makes plays" comment. Football is in their bones and I like those kinds of players. Scott McVey always got the headlines for that Ignatius D his junior and senior year, but Ryan, IMO, was the productive rock at LB.

  2. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    I've always liked JR since high school. He is what you call a "football player" and he seems to get the job done. I believe that what will happen on defense is that somehow, Mattison will put his best players on the field, and by midway through the Big Ten season, we will see a rotation that will not look like it did in the beginning of the season, and JR will be a big part of it having been at a couple of LB positions.

  3. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    Point: It seems like our best three LBs are Demens, Cam Gordon, and Ryan. There are ambiguous reports on Mike Jones and Evans.

    Point: Demens has MLB locked up. Cam and Ryan seem to be competing for SLB. Jones and Evans for WLB.

    Question: Why can't we play Cam Gordon at WLB and Ryan at SLB? I thought WLBs were the smaller, quicker, rangier of the three LB positions, and Cam is a converted safety–small, quick, and rangy.

  4. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:16 a.m.

    Weakside linebackers are generally smaller, quicker, and rangier. The problem with playing Gordon there would be that the MIKE and WILL have to be somewhat interchangeable, since you never know how the offense will line up. If Gordon played WILL full-time, there would be times where he would have to play downhill, fill holes that open, and take on lead blocks from fullbacks. He's not used to doing those things, and at 6'3" and 207+ pounds (we don't know how much weight he's added this offseason), he might be a little too tall and lanky to be able to stop the run.

    Notice that the guys we're recruiting to play WILL are guys like Antonio Poole, Kaleb Ringer, and James Ross, all of whom are in the 6'0" to 6'1" range.

    I'm not saying it's out of the question, but it's probably not ideal.

  5. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    Thanks for the response, Magnus, and the clarification. A follow-up question, though: isn't the main job of the SLB to do just what you cited as the reasons for Cam not playing WLB? Don't SLBs primarily fill holes, take on lead blocks, and play downhill?

  6. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:45 a.m.

    The SAM in a 4-3 Under is like a 3-4 outside linebacker. He will rarely fill holes, he'll have to take on kick-out blocks with his inside shoulder, set the edge of the line, and play downhill a little bit (along with his blitzing and pass coverage duties). Keep in mind that the SAM will already be on or near the line of scrimmage, so playing downhill (aka moving forward several yards to make plays) isn't as necessary.

  7. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    This site has been really good for helping me understand the differences between LB positions by describing their duties and prototypical attributes in a manner I can digest – that is, through the lens of Michigan football. However, I'm still a little confused – don't LBs also have frequent responsibilities in pass coverage?

    Anyway…backup SAM seems like a fair expectation, maybe he breaks through later in the year if/when injuries occur and he gets some experience under his belt.

    My assumption was that the SAM, being on the TE side, would often be tasked with covering the TE. The MLB and WLB were less likely to be used in coverage. If that's the case, isn't coverage ability a big reason to have a former safety like CG at SAM? Wouldn't that be a drawback to playing a bigger guy like Ryan?

    I had the same thought about Ryan at WLB since that's been described as being very read-and-go attacking style that would seem to fit him, even if he's a little big for it.

  8. Comments: 21383
    Aug 04, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:14 a.m.

    Yes, I mentioned pass coverage in the comment at 9:51 a.m. I left it out earlier, but at that point, I was only talking about run fits.

    What I'd like to see Michigan do is play Ryan more against running teams or in running situations, and play Gordon more against passing teams and in passing situations…although Ryan didn't do a bad job in pass coverage and he's a decent blitzer.

    I would rather play Ryan at WILL than Gordon. I just don't see Gordon being a good inside 'backer.

  9. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 05, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    Maybe they will play both SLB's situationally, but I think Ryan will prove to be a better all-around player and will win out the position for the most part. He reminds me of an instinctive OSU LB, except he may not be a combine beast. Both coaching staffs seem enamored with Gordon's measurables, but I am not sure he is an ideal fit any any position and he does not look like a natural on defense to me. Of course, his head is still spinning so that may be the problem. I could see Frank Clark making some noise at SLB too this year. He looked like a potentially excellent pass rusher in the Big 33 game.

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