Top 5 moments: Jake Ryan breaks out

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
9:50
AM ET
This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

No. 5 -- Countess injured; No. 4 -- Robinson sets a record; No. 3 -- A game-winning kick

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He showed potential last season when, as an underrated linebacker in his first career game, he seemed to always be around the ball.

Still, few could have anticipated this season’s rise of Jake Ryan from just another Michigan linebacker to one of the best in the Big Ten. While no particular moment stands out, his emergence as a whole is the second most critical thing for the Wolverines this season.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Sandra Dukes/US PresswireSophomore Jake Ryan became Michigan's top pass rusher this season.
Ryan leads Michigan in tackles (84), tackles for loss (14.5), forced fumbles (four), quarterback hurries (two) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (four). Moreover, he seems to be around the ball on almost every big Michigan play -- and many of the routine ones as well.

He has put up three games of 10 or more tackles -- and has hit nine tackles in two other games. He also has converted himself into an every-down linebacker, able to drop down to the defensive line as a rushing end when necessary. He also has learned how to drop in coverage spread wide in a linebacker-nickel formation to cover receivers and tight ends against certain spread offenses.

What has stood out the most, though, is how Ryan hits. When he makes good contact with an opponent, the result is usually a violent collision in which Ryan ends up on the better end.

Some of that is instinctual. The rest, though, just makes it appear so.

“Need to get my job done is what goes through my head,” Ryan said. “Tendencies and stuff, definitely looking for tendencies. Watching film, like what are they going to do before the play, stuff like that.

“That happening and reading my guy and reading what I need to do and coming through with the pass breakup.”

Or the sack. Or the big hit.

Michigan’s coaches insisted Ryan’s play -- literally how he decides to go from starting point to tackling point -- is “unorthodox.” But instead of harnessing it, the Wolverines seem content letting him do his thing.

After results like this season, there would be little reason to change.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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