Rays of Light: LBs Must Step Up

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray evaluates the LB position thus far this spring and shares his thoughts on what the unit needs to improve upon.

Sam Webb:  You said you still need to see some things, some improvement at the linebacker position.  You’ve got Desmond Morgan back, which brings some experience back.  You’ve got a senior now in James Ross who is in there as well.  How are you seeing these guys deployed?  Last year you had Biggs playing the SAM, now there is some word that he is getting some snaps at the WILL.

Marcus Ray:  “Linebackers right now it looks like James Ross, Bolden, and Desmond Morgan.  Bolden and Morgan would be the two inside guys. Royce Jenkins-Stone, that’s your BUCK linebacker, that is your weakside/outside linebacker that we talked about last week.  Collectively that may be the best four that they can put out there right now.  Athletically Ross and Royce are doing a great job of holding the point, blitzing off the edge, dropping in coverage.  I still think Bolden and Morgan are struggling a little bit instinctively reading their keys because they’re getting blocked.  Remember what I said 20 minutes ago… Derrick Green and De’Veon are four yards up the field before they’re getting touched sometimes unless Michigan gets blitzes, but when they sit there and have to read, those running backs are getting up on them, but that is a credit to the offensive line for getting that extra blocker that I was talking about.  Sometimes you will see Ross get some action at the WILL, which is his natural position. Things change a little bit when Biggs is in the middle because he’s downhill instinctual guy… he can hit it.  At linebacker, there are no false steps, you can’t take false reads.  You have to read a small triangle and it is the offensive lineman to the near running back and if you play and understand where you fit, you have to play fast.  We saw last year, let’s say that fourth and one against the Buckeyes, I don’t want to single out one guy, but one of those linebackers didn’t read it, didn’t hit it, he was unblocked, missed the play, and gave up the ball game.  You can’t have guys like that in there unless you correct those mistakes.  If they’re showing the same thing, as a coordinator I would go with a new guy and use some of my older guys as backup experienced guys.  I would put the best player on the field but just right now, the inside linebacker position at both spots, the MIKE and the WILL, I’m not seeing it yet.  To their defense, I haven’t watched film yet either.  I haven’t sat down with the coaches like I did a year ago.  DJ and I are working on or relationship and we are going to watch film because I’ll be calling the game lord willing on Big Ten Network.”

Sam Webb:  Which is why you’re getting all this background, so you’ll really be able to dissect things on the Big Ten Network.

Marcus Ray:  “On April 4th.  What I’m going to do that Saturday, I’m going to get on that telestrator and I’m going to break offense and defense down, because that is going to be one of the most watched spring games in the country.  So I need to make sure that I know what I’m talking about from both perspectives.  So I’m going to watch film with Drevno, watch film with DJ and I’m going to figure out the method to their madness.  They’ve already agreed to do so and when I start breaking that offense and defense down for the Michigan faithful to see, they’re going to say, ‘oh we get it.’  But I’m going to make sure that everybody kind of gets on the same page of what Harbaugh is trying to do.  At the linebacker position, they need to step it up.  When you’re not as athletic as some other guys are, you have got to play fast and play smart.  One area that I think they can improve is man-to-man coverage.  You can’t play man-to-man if those linebackers can’t cover running backs.  That’s one thing people don’t talk about.  We always think man-to-man is a corner on a receiver, a nickel back on the slot, but if those guys can cover and that quarterback finds that mismatch at running back versus linebacker, you can call Tyrone, he’ll help you come get your stuff right out of Ann Arbor.  The deal is Bolden and Morgan probably are the best two, (but) they’ve got to step it up.  McCray was in there making some plays.  He’s a big body kid too.  Gedeon, he needs to get a little bit stronger.  I just saw Kalis give him a shot yesterday that he didn’t need, but he took it and got up.  It’s all about toughness.  This will come down to toughness and talent, and I call that TNT.”

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