Spring Football Preview: Linebackers

Spring Football Preview: Linebackers

March 1, 2016
Ben Gedeon Mike McCray 735x

Ben Gedeon (#42) and Mike McCray II (#9)

Projected LB starters: SAM Jabrill Peppers (RS So.), MIKE Ben Gedeon (Sr.), WILL Mike McCray II (RS Jr.). It’s sad to say that this might be the last time we have a chance to see Jabrill Peppers in a Michigan uniform. A defensive back prospect coming out of high school, Don Brown seems to want him to play outside linebacker like Steve Brown did back in 2009. Gedeon is the only true, experienced linebacker returning from last year; he started one game last season and has 70 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks in his career. McCray is more of a question mark. Listed at 6’4″ and 242 lbs. last year, he missed the whole season with a shoulder injury. In three years on campus – including a freshman season when he was injured and took a redshirt – he has 2 tackles and 1 blocked punt to his name. However, when the team took the field on Monday morning, he was reportedly the first WILL linebacker on the field.

Hit the jump for more on the linebacker position.

Departures: Michigan lost three senior linebackers in the forms of Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, and James Ross III. Bolden and Ross were both highly ranked recruits, but neither one lived up to his potential. Morgan was a bit under-the-radar as a prospect but was the most consistent of the three. Those three manned the linebacker spots last season, but it was the weakest unit on the defense.

Backup battle: I don’t expect Peppers to be the full-time SAM, and redshirt sophomore Noah Furbush is going to get a chance to play the spot when the Wolverines need a little more bulk. He made some plays on special teams late last season but is very inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball. True freshman Carlo Kemp is listed at 6’3″, 250 lbs. and will reportedly get a look at both SAM and MIKE. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said recently that redshirt freshman Reuben Jones would get a shot to play some inside linebacker, though he came in as a defensive end. I think freshman Devin Bush, Jr. will have a chance to start this fall, but he might be playing from behind spring because of his physical development. Redshirt sophomore Jared Wangler does not appear to be pushing for major playing time at this point. One other note is that redshirt sophomore Chase Winovich is listed as a defensive end, but he may get a chance to play SAM as well.

#1 thing to watch: Similar to the defensive line position, it will be interesting to watch what the front looks like this season. Will it be a 4-3 Under or a 4-3 Over or a 3-4 of some sort? Michigan has depth on the defensive line and a bunch of unknown quantities at linebacker. Good coaches adapt to their personnel, and I believe that Don Brown is a good coach. The staff needs to find its best 3-5 players at linebacker and develop a front and blitz packages that fit those players’ skill sets.


  1. Avatar
    Comments: 1252
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Mar 01, 2016 at 7:00 AM

    Winovich is another guy that makes me wish I could see some practices. At 6’3″ 230, with some speed, he seemingly is made for the LB position. And yet, under the Harbaugh administration, he appears everywhere but LB. This one is among the most mysterious of all the Harbaugh mysteries to me.

    • Thunder
      Comments: 3544
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Mar 01, 2016 at 7:01 AM

      I’ve heard he’s about 250 lbs. now, FWIW.

      • Avatar
        Comments: 1252
        Joined: 8/13/2015
        Mar 01, 2016 at 7:05 AM

        Well, that helps make some sense of it.

  2. Avatar
    Comments: 1252
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Mar 01, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    I’m really pulling for Mike McCray to be the LB that daddy was and keep Noah Furbush on special teams for another year.

  3. Avatar
    Comments: 3
    Joined: 9/4/2015
    Mar 01, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    Hmmm…. I though Peppers would never be a linebacker…

  4. Lanknows
    Comments: 5873
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Mar 01, 2016 at 12:07 PM

    ” The staff needs to find its best 3-5 players at linebacker and…fit those players’ skill sets.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head. Based on what we’ve seen on the field, Gedeon and Peppers are the two who clearly earned their spots, even when there were a bunch of senior LBs around. The 3rd LB spot is the one that’s up for grabs, along with backup roles.

    That they view McCray (who is pretty big for a ‘WIL’) as the leading contender for the 3rd LB spot indicates to me they are doing just that (putting ability over fit). Same thing at WDE with Charlton.

    What this means in aggregate though is that Michigan will be a very large defense it it has a 310 pound SDE, a 275 pound WDE, and a 245 pound WIL. Typically more size means less speed and that’s not what I’d expect from a Brown defense. Brown’s also made comments about not having the type of LBs he wanted on the roster and expecting the recruiting class to play immediate dividends so this is all pretty interesting.

    So, it may not last, but it’s interesting anyway.

    Beyond McCray, who was already a regular presence on the depth chart listing and earned some positive buzz in 2014 (before he was hurt), the other top contenders in my mind are (in order):

    1. Furbush: played well on special teams and seems to be the next man up at the moment
    2. Bush: hard to expect much out of an undersized freshman but his recruiting profile was enticing.
    3. Winovich: always projected as a SAM but not in the Peppers/Brown mold.

    I’m not going to get too excited about Johnson or Kemp right now. I believe those guys will still end up at WDE. Harbaugh clearly sees value in working guys at other positions to gain versatility and become more well-rounded as athletes and football players. We have to learn to view position-changes as temporary. Harbaugh uses these as developmental tools, more often than not.

    Perhaps Pallante’s time at FB helped him learn about leverage and blocking schemes, where it hurts offenses most to be disrupted. Perhaps Canteen will have a few tricks up his sleeves now that he knows what life is like from a CB’s perspective. Maybe Winovich gained some ‘instincts’ and flexibility by working as a TE. etc.

  5. Avatar
    Comments: 1
    Joined: 1/2/2016
    Mar 01, 2016 at 7:15 PM

    I always thought that Dymonte Thomas had the potential to play LB and the body type to add the weight necessary to do so……

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