Spring Preview: The Linebackers

GBW continues to preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and the fall. How do the linebackers stack up going into Spring Practice? Here is our anaylsis.<br><br> ***Comments from former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet added***

At strong side linebacker, Michigan gets Roy Manning back from injury for Spring Practice. Manning is a fast and athletic linebacker that contributed in limited time as a redshirt freshman. In 2002, he injured his knee in the first game of the year. Manning has worked hard to rehabilitate his injury, and will be ready for the spring. How quickly he is able to shake off the rust in the spring may determine who wins the starting job. Pierre Woods moved to linebacker from defensive end during bowl practices, and will provide the primary competition. Woods is a phenomenal athlete, who like Manning, starred on special teams as a redshirt freshman. He played linebacker in high school, but Spring Practice will be an important learning experience for Woods. The Michigan coaches may decide to move either Manning or Woods to the weak side, to get both of these great athletes on the field together.

Mark Ouimet: "Outside, Sam, or strongside, linebacker is easiest to talk about. Pierre Woods was moved late last fall from defensive end to outside linebacker and he has stayed there, partly due to injuries and partly to fill a potential void if Manning moves inside. Pierre is 6-5, he's very athletic, and he will be able to play out there. He'll get most of the reps in the spring because he hasn't played there much, and he will be the starter at OLB, I believe, as well.
"Roy Manning (ACL) is coming back strong, he has recently run a 4.6 in the 40. He's athletic, strong, flexible. And he can go either way, inside or outside. He may alternate between positions a lot in spring, and maymove to ILB if Zach Kaufman and Carl Diggs do not come back strong.

Pierre Woods (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

John Spytek has playing experience at strong side linebacker, and will return for his fifth year. In addition, Joey Sarantos began at that linebacker position, but moved to the weak side last year because of a string of injuries. He will probably stay at weak side linebacker where he can compete for the starting job, but in an emergency, he also knows the strong outside linebacker position. Brian Thompson also practiced here in the fall, and will provide depth, but may be a candidate to switch to fullback.

Ouimet: "Behind Woods and Manning is Jon Spytek, who will play special teams, and be an insurance policy at OLB. At freshmen there are Lamarr Woodley and Shawn Crable. I actually think Woodley will play at defensive end; Crable I think will stick at outside (Sam) linebacker."

Ouimet: "At inside linebacker, the Mac (middle) and Will (weakside) linebackers are pretty interchangable. Michigan finished last season with Scott McClintock and Joey Sarantos at the two inside spots because of injuries to Zach Kaufman (ACL) and Carl Diggs (broken leg). Zach and Carl are not participating in spring ball, so that creates more reps for the rest. A lot of people got experience because of injuries last year, and they will get more this spring."

At middle linebacker, Carl Diggs started most of the season in 2002 before breaking his leg against Ohio State. He will be out for Spring Practice because of that injury, but will attempt to return in the fall. Scott McClintock was Diggs primary backup for most of the year, but moved to the weak side late in the year because of injuries. McClintock is a big talented linebacker that will probably move back to his original position in the middle, and start in 2003. David Harris will back him up, and get valuable instruction in Spring Practice. Harris impressed in practices in 2002, but lacks in experience. When Diggs returns in the fall, he will try to win back his starting job, if he is healthy and in good physical condition.

Carl Diggs

Scott McClintock (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

At weak side linebacker, Zach Kaufman started for most of the year, before suffering an ACL tear in the game against Minnesota. He will miss Spring Practice because of this injury, but is expected to return in the fall. At the beginning of the year, Kaufman's primary backup was Lawrence Reid, who saw extensive playing time in the first five games of the year. Reid provided a faster more athletic option at the position, though he lacked experience. Following the game against Illinois, he suffered from blood clots that ended his season. Reid has been cleared to participate in Spring Practice, and may use that opportunity to get a jump on earning the starting job.

Lawrence Reid

Joey Sarantos earned valuable playing time late in 2002. He impressed with his speed and athletic ability, but his inexperience was apparent at times. As a young player, Sarantos also lacked in strength last year. Winter conditioning and the summer off-season will give him the opportunity to work in the weight room. But the experience he gains in the spring will be crucial in his development as he pushes for a starting position. Obianna Oluigbo practiced at weak side linebacker in 2002. While he impressed as an athletic and aggressive athlete, he is reported to be very raw as a linebacker. Spring Practice will be an important instructional period for Oluigbo, as he develops his skills. Expect to see him contribute on special teams in the fall, while backing up the older players at weak side linebacker.

Ouimet: "I expect Kaufman, or Diggs, to be the starter in the fall in middle spot, the Mac. In the spring it could be Joey Satantos. He had to fill in at Mac late in the season last year due to all the injuries, and he did good job. And lack of depth at Mac is why they will play Manning there a little. In the fall I think he'll be behind Kaufman and Digg, and he will also play a lot of special teams. The spring is important for Joe."
"This fall McClintock and Lawrence Reid will, I believe, man the Will spot. McClintock will definitely be the starter. Reid has been given a clean Bill of Health for spring ball for his blood clot problem, and will get lot of reps in spring."
"The young guys inside are David Harris, Obi Oliugbo, and Brian Thompson. All are similar type guys. Davis will probably emerge first, at Mac; Brian and Obi should see action on special teams."

Zack Kaufman (AP photo/Paul Warner)

Michigan grabbed a talented group of linebacker recruits in 2003. However, with Lamarr Woodley likely to play at defensive end, and Jim Presley possibly ending up at fullback, the Wolverines will still need to focus on recruiting linebackers for 2004. Shawn Crable is a talented outside linebacker, and will probably stay there, but depth will require that Michigan recruit and land two or three more players at the position.

Ouimet: "As far as the incoming freshman go. I think Lamarr Woodley will be a defensive end; if he plays linebacker it'll be Sam. Either Lamarr or Shawn Crable will play Sam, and I think it'll be Crable. Woodley is more like Shontee Orr. Jim Presley will play and inside linebacker spot, unless he is moved to fullback."

Shawn Crable

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