Michigan Rewind: Western Michigan

Tag: Jake Ryan

7Sep 2011
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Snapshots: Brandon Herron’s 94-yard Interception Return

I’m not sure if you Michigan fans (or Western Michigan fans, if any Broncos have stumbled upon this site) remember this play from Saturday’s 34-10 victory, but it’s the one that went a long way toward earning linebacker Brandon Herron the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week honors.  It was also the longest interception return in Michigan football history at 94 yards.  It was kind of a big deal.
To set up the play, WMU has driven down to the Michigan 4.5 yard line with the score tied 7-7 and just over seven minutes remaining in the first half.  It’s 2nd-and-goal.  The Broncos come out with an Ace package (two tight ends, two wide receivers, one running back).  Despite the proximity to the goal line, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows that the Broncos like to throw the ball and counters with his basic nickel package: an Okie front with three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and three safeties.
SAM linebacker Jake Ryan has bumped down inside over WMU’s right guard.  On one side of him is Mike Martin in a 0-tech (nose tackle) and on the other is Craig Roh in a 5-tech (outside shoulder of offensive tackle).  Herron is aligned in a 3-off (outside the left guard’s shoulder and off the ball). 

As WMU quarterback Alex Carder hits the first step of a three-step drop, he sees that Michigan is running the exact same coverage that he probably saw in his pre-snap read – Man Free.  Each of the cornerbacks is locked up on a wideout, strong safety Jordan Kovacs and nickel corner Thomas Gordon each have a tight end, and free safety Carvin Johnson patrols the middle of the field; Herron is tasked with picking up the running back out of the backfield, and middle linebacker Kenny Demens is coming up to blitz.  With the left tight end releasing and the right tight end staying in to block, WMU’s offensive line correctly slides its protection to the left; therefore, each offensive lineman is responsible for the gap immediately to his left.  In theory this should work, unless the defense sends multiple defenders to one gap.  They don’t.

As Carder hits his third step, his options are limited.  Cornerback Courtney Avery has blanketed the receiver to the bottom of the screen while the releasing tight end is running straight into the juggernaut known as Jordan Kovacs.  At the top of the screen, cornerback J.T. Floyd awaits the backside receiver.  Nickel corner Thomas Gordon waits at the line of scrimmage for the running back to release, which the RB never does; instead he steps up to block the 250 lb. Demens.  The LT successfully single blocks DE Ryan Van Bergen, the LG and C struggle to hold off NT Mike Martin, and the remaining TE single blocks DE Craig Roh.

The problem is that everybody forgot about Jake Ryan, who rushed at the snap.  The RG blocked him initially, but when Ryan stepped back to the RG’s other side, the RG correctly left him to RT Dann O’Neill.  O’Neill has nobody else to block and stands still so everyone can admire his long blonde hair.  Carder just hit his back foot and might want to release the ball soon, since a 230 lb. man is two yards away and approaching fast.

As Carder releases the ball, Ryan does his best impression of Dikembe Mutombo and swats the pass, which looks to be intended as a back shoulder throw to CB Avery’s wideout.  The pass is probably a bad idea no matter what, since nobody’s open except FS Johnson and LB Herron.  In retrospect, Carder’s thinking he should have eaten it and taken the sack.  At the time, Carder was probably thinking, “Maybe if I throw it, the bad man won’t hit me anymore.”  He was wrong.

Herron intercepts the deflected ball at the 5-yard line while Carder lies on his back.

Herron, who was planning to step out of bounds and enjoy raucous cheers and pats on the butt from the cheerleaders, hears a screeching voice coming from the vicinity of my couch yelling “Stay inbounds!”  Spurred on by the urgency of my screams, he eludes the WMU left tackle and runs as fast as he can.

O’Neill, who at this point feels monumentally guilty for leaving Michigan and for growing hair like Kyle Turley’s, pretends to trip over Kenny Demens’ foot so he won’t have to run anymore.  Meanwhile, Herron’s convoy includes the 300 lb. Mike Martin and the 290 lb. Ryan Van Bergen, neither of whom are needed but both of whom make the effort anyway; the 230 lb. Ryan, who batted the pass to Herron and the quarterback to the ground, also runs interference downfield.  (Watch this full speed and take a gander at Van Bergen, who puts his head down and sprints his ass off despite knowing that he’s a brontosaurus chasing . . . some other type of faster -saurus.)

Herron, a 221 lb. linebacker, crosses the goal line five yards ahead of 195 lb. free safety Carvin Johnson.  Momentum has shifted.  The band plays a song.  The people rejoice.  Somewhere, a child is born.  Probably.

Herron caught the ball at 7:09 and crossed the goal line at 6:58, meaning he took roughly 11 seconds to travel 95 yards wearing football pads and dodging offensive linemen.  Remember all those practice reports saying that Herron was a physical freak but lacking in football instincts?  This confirms the former, but the latter might be in question now.  Combine this play with his 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown later in the game, and Herron had 8 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 123 yards of returns, and 2 touchdowns.  Not bad for a guy who was a late addition to the starting lineup after beginning the week as the #2 weakside linebacker.  I wonder if Herron will start next week . . .

Go Blue!

(The above play begins at 1:53 of the video below.)

10Aug 2011
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Poll Results: Who will lead Michigan in sacks for 2011?

Craig Roh will get a chance to create deja vu on September 3rd

A couple weeks ago, I posed the question, “Who will lead Michigan’s 2011 defense in sacks?”  Here are the results of that poll:

Craig Roh: 49%
Mike Martin: 21%
Jibreel Black (tie): 10%
Ryan Van Bergen (tie): 10%
Jake Ryan: 3%
Cameron Gordon: 1%
William Campbell: 1%
Other: 0%

Junior defensive end Craig Roh won the vote in a landslide victory.  I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.  Obviously, Michigan fans have high hopes for a coaching staff that features three current or former defensive line coaches in head coach Brady Hoke, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.  Roh was miscast as a linebacker last season and garnered only 1/2 a sack, which means that backup safety Thomas Gordon had 1.5 more sacks.  Yikes.  Still, Roh ought to be the starter at weakside end, which should create plenty of one-on-one opportunities with offensive tackles.

Senior defensive tackle Mike Martin finished second in the voting, but it surprised me that he only got 21% of the vote.  Martin had 2.5 sacks last season when he was strictly a nose tackle, and Mattison has promised to move Martin around this year – even to outside linebacker at times – to use his athleticism, strength, and quickness in various ways.  Martin will still face plenty of double teams, but if he can avoid the ankle injuries that slowed him last year, he might give Roh a run for his money.

Sophomore defensive end Jibreel Black and fifth year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen had exactly the same number of votes.  Black will split time between both defensive end positions, but he had zero sacks among his 7 total tackles as a freshman.  Meanwhile, Van Bergen is the active sack leader with 9 total.  He will face his share of double-teams as well, but he’s relentless and could make a run at the team lead, as well.

Redshirt freshman SAM linebacker Jake Ryan did not play at all last season.  He did have an impressive spring and earned compliments from the coaching staff, but at best, he’s expected to split time with redshirt sophomore Cam Gordon at outside linebacker.

Speaking of Gordon, he just barely beat out junior defensive tackle William Campbell (by one vote) for last place on the list.  Gordon had zero sacks among his 77 total tackles last season, although to be fair, Gordon played half the season at free safety before moving to outside linebacker.  In one-and-a-half seasons at defensive tackle, Campbell – who moved from DT to offensive guard midway through 2010 – had only 5 tackles and 1 tackle for loss.  He moved back to defensive line in the spring and at 6’5″, 333 lbs. should be a load for any offensive guard to handle one-on-one.  I do expect Campbell to break out this season, but Ndamukong Suh-like seasons are rare from defensive tackles.  Campbell will more likely end the year with 2 or 3 sacks, and hopefully a couple of his teammates will surpass that total.

4Aug 2011
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2011 Countdown: #27 Jake Ryan

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

23Jun 2011
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Poll Results: Michigan’s leading tackler in 2011?

Kenny Demens (#25) wraps up the ballcarrier with help from safeties Ray Vinopal and Jordan Kovacs (#32).
Image via MichiganDaily.com

The results:

Kenny Demens, MLB: 64%
Cam Gordon, SLB: 15%
Jordan Kovacs, S: 7%
Jake Ryan, SLB: 6%
Marell Evans, LB: 2%
Carvin Johnson, S: 1%
Other: 1%

Well, Demens wins the poll in a landslide victory.  As the middle linebacker and the most likely starter to retain his position, he’s probably a good choice.  Demens was the third-leading tackler in 2010, accounting for 82 total stops in just 7 starts.  That’s 11.7 tackles per start, which admittedly isn’t a perfect measurement, since he did play a backup role to Obi Ezeh before usurping the MLB job.  Demens was my hoice.

I’m a little surprised that Cam Gordon finished #2 in the voting.  He was the fourth-leading tackler in 2010, with 77 total tackles.  He’s heavier than the 207 lbs. at which he played last season, but it might be a bit of a stretch to expect him to be a force at SAM for the upcoming year.  He’s going to face a stiff challenge from the larger redshirt freshman Jake Ryan, who earned rave reviews in the spring and had a solid spring game.  They might split the snaps there.

Safety Jordan Kovacs is the leading returning tackler (he finished just one tackle behind departed senior linebacker Jonas Mouton, 117 to 116).  Kovacs started 13 games last season, which gave him 8.9 tackles per start.  He has touted sophomore safety Marvin Robinson pushing him for playing time, but I would expect the two-year starter to retain his job, at least for the beginning of the season.  His overall number of tackles will almost certainly drop, though, due to a [hopefully] improved defense that will get off the field a little quicker.

Strongside ‘backer Jake Ryan finishes #4.  He had zero tackles last year, mostly because he watched from the sidelines.  I think he’ll be a force in stopping the run, but expecting a first-year starter and redshirt freshman to lead the team in tackles is a bit of a stretch for me, especially if he and Gordon are neck-and-neck for the job.

Fifth year senior Marell Evans picked up only a few votes, which was slightly surprising to me.  Evans started at MLB this spring when Demens had shoulder surgery, and he’s my bet to be the starting weakside linebacker on September 3, provided Demens is back at full strength.  Evans only has 4 tackles and half a sack in his college career, which consists of one start back in 2008 and a bunch of special teams action.  He transferred to Hampton after the 2008 season and didn’t see the field for the past two years, but he looked solid during spring practices.

Carvin Johnson, the other projected safety, got a few votes, too.  Johnson was the 16th-leading tackler in 2010 while starting only three games due to injury.  He had an impressive spring, though, looking comfortable in the new defense and picking off a couple passes in the spring game.

I would be interested to hear which player(s) were the reason for “Other” votes, since defensive linemen and cornerbacks rarely lead teams in tackles.  The only other possibilities seem to be safety Marvin Robinson or weakside linebacker Mike Jones, both of whom I project as backups.