2010 Countdown: #33 J.B. Fitzgerald

Tag: J.B. Fitzgerald

1Aug 2010
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2010 Countdown: #33 J.B. Fitzgerald

Name: J.B. Fitzgerald
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 239 lbs.
High school: West Windsor Plainsboro High School in Princeton Junction, NJ
Position: Linebacker
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #42
Last year: I ranked Fitzgerald #37 and said he’d be a backup inside linebacker. He made 16 tackles and 4 tackles for loss.

A silly failure to properly use a redshirt year makes J.B. Fitzgerald a junior this season, giving him just one year to replace presumed 2010 starters Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton. I know this isn’t PlayStation, but would you rather have Fitzgerald make 8 tackles (6 on special teams) as a freshman, or would you rather have him as a fifth year, two-year starter in 2012? Fitzgerald has played in a mediocre fashion the past two seasons, but inside linebacker is one of the most difficult positions on the field to adjust to from one level to the next. Not only is the middle linebacker a signal caller for the defense, but a split-second hesitation is the difference between making the tackle for no gain or getting gashed for a big gainer up the middle.

Fitzgerald wasn’t great in his limited playing time at inside ‘backer in 2009, but he wasn’t awful, either. The coaches seem to be gaining confidence in him, and in the spring, he was the #1 backup at all three linebacker positions – Roh’s, Ezeh’s, and Mouton’s. That’s partly due to injuries and a lack of depth, but there must be a reason that Fitzgerald has been entrusted with reps at all three positions, and not, say, Kenny Demens or Isaiah Bell. Fitzgerald has the size and speed to contribute at any linebacker spot, and he’ll get the opportunity if any injuries befall the starters. I expect Ezeh and Mouton to blossom this season, so Fitzgerald will be a special teams kamikaze and a key backup once again. But as I said last year, he’ll be a solid starter once those two seniors graduate.

Prediction for 2010: Special teams coverage, backup linebacker; 20 tackles

2Jul 2010
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2010 Countdown: #65 Isaiah Bell

Name: Isaiah Bell
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 237 lbs.
High school: Liberty High School in Youngstown, OH
Position: Middle linebacker
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #26
Last year: I ranked him #75 and said he would redshirt. Bell redshirted.

Bell is in his second year of the program and making an adjustment from playing high school safety to playing college inside linebacker. Up to this point, he hasn’t really made his mark on the team. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are the presumed starters at the inside linebacker positions, and J.B. Fitzgerald, Kenny Demens, and Mike Jones are scheduled to be the first ones off the bench.

I’m a little surprised that Bell was bumped to inside linebacker rather than Steve Brown’s hybrid role, but at 237 lbs., Bell has put on enough weight that the hybrid position would no longer be an option. In the pictures I have seen, Bell still looks a little bit soft, so I think he’s still got some work to do with his conditioning and nutrition habits. But I stand by my assessment from last year that Bell will be a good player in college – it just won’t be this year. Bell could be a contributor on special teams this year, and we might also see him at linebacker against teams like UMass or Bowling Green. Otherwise, I don’t expect to see #26 on the field much this year.

Prediction for 2010: Special teams action; limited linebacker reps

23Jun 2010
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2010 Countdown: #80 Jake Ryan

Name: Jake Ryan
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 220 lbs.
High school: St. Ignatius High School in Westlake, OH
Position: Linebacker
Class: Freshman
Jersey number: N/A
Prediction for 2010: Redshirt

Ryan was a late, under-the-radar addition to Michigan’s class. While he reported being recruited to play Craig Roh’s outside linebacker position, I feel that he would contribute best to the team at middle linebacker. Not only does Michigan have a shortage of inside linebackers, but I think Ryan does a good job of playing downhill and has the requisite speed for the position. I also think he looks like a WVU middle linebacker, which is where this defense seems to be heading.

Whichever linebacker position he ends up playing, he’s probably due for a redshirt. He’s a little bit light to play at the college level just yet, and the middle linebacker position can be filled by some combination of Obi Ezeh, JB Fitzgerald, or Kenny Demens. But I do think Ryan has a bright future ahead of him.

16Mar 2010
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2010 Recruiting Grades: Linebacker

The realization that Michigan could be headed toward a 4-2-5 defense in 2010 makes the recent class’s linebacker recruiting a little murky. The Wolverines desperately needed some linebackers in the class, but largely failed to get what Michigan fans – and anlaysts – wanted to see from Rich Rodriguez. Presumably, Michigan’s two starting inside linebackers will graduate after 2010 (Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton), leaving only J.B. Fitzgerald, Kenny Demens, Isaiah Bell, and Mike Jones to play those two spots; only Fitzgerald has seen significant playing time thus far.

One of Michigan’s first commitments of the cycle, Youngstown, OH, linebacker Antonio Kinard arrived on the scene. He played fullback and middle linebacker in high school, but throughout the recruiting process, he and analysts insisted he was being recruited for the Quick end position. Shortly before National Signing Day, Kinard revealed that the coaches would start him off at the weakside linebacker position. So it looks as if Kinard will be groomed to be Mouton’s potential replacement. Kinard is 6’4″ and only 202 lbs., so he has some filling out to do. He has the speed and athleticism to be an excellent defender, and it’s promising that he actually played ILB as a high schooler.

Michigan’s second linebacker commitment came from Josh Furman, a SAM prospect from Millersville, MD. Originally recruited to play SAM, the potential switch to the 4-2-5 essentially eliminates the SAM linebacker. So it remains to be seen what position Furman will play. However, his physical skills might be the most impressive of any player in the entire class. At 6’3″ and 194 lbs., he supposedly ran a 4.37 laser-timed forty (which is surely fake, but still impressive, if only for its audacity). His speed is impressive, but he tends to run upright and could struggle with his agility at the next level. I don’t expect the SAM linebacker position to disappear permanently (it might only be a one-year experiment to maximize talent), but Furman has the frame and skills enough to bulk up to weakside linebacker size. As for the 2010 season, I expect Furman to get some reps at strong safety.

Predictions: Kinard will almost surely redshirt in 2010, and I’d expect him to be around 230 pounds by the time he earns some playing time in a couple years. He’s a more natural fit at inside linebacker than some of the other linebackers (Bell and Jones, for example), but I don’t see him really pushing for playing time until his third year. Furman, on the other hand, could very well play in 2010. I think he could be an excellent special teams player with his speed and size. Furthermore, while I don’t see him starting this year, he could very well get some backup minutes in the role of SS (or SAM). I wouldn’t trust him in deep zone coverage just yet, but he would be a good matchup in coverage on tight ends.

Grade: C. Michigan really needed a middle linebacker in this class, which the coaches failed to secure. It’s possible that Jake Ryan could play MIKE, but so far it seems he was recruited to play Quick end. Kinard has good upside, but he’s a couple years away from contributing. That’s fine because there are other options at weakside linebacker, but an immediate-impact sort would have been nice. Furman is a good player and could play a variety of roles; he reminds me a bit of recent Wisconsin Badger Jonathan Casillas, but with better pass rushing ability.

25Aug 2009
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2009 Countdown: #37 J.B. Fitzgerald

Name: J.B. Fitzgerald
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 232 lbs.
High School: West Windsor Plainsboro High School in Princeton Junction, NJ
Position: Inside linebacker
Class: Sophomore
Jersey Number: #42
2008 statistics: 8 tackles
Prediction for 2009: Backup inside linebacker

Fitzgerald was a highly touted linebacker coming out of high school in 2008 and currently rests second on the depth chart at inside linebacker. If either Jonas Mouton or Obi Ezeh gets hurt, Fitzgerald would probably be the first guy on the field to replace them.

Unfortunately for Michigan, there’s very little competition at linebacker. All the freshmen (Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell, Brandin Hawthorne) seem destined for the SAM linebacker position, and even redshirt freshman Brandon Smith has reportedly been playing SAM at times. The backups at inside linebacker are Fitzgerald, Kenny Demens, and then walk-ons. This is why linebacker recruiting is so important in the class of 2010.

But I digress. Fitzgerald is a classic middle linebacker, a heavy hitter with a nose for the ball. He won’t beat out Ezeh while the latter is still playing on Saturdays, but once Ezeh departs, the MIKE position will be in good hands.