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Thursday, March 8, 2012
Spring position preview: Linebackers

By Michael Rothstein

A couple of seasons ago, it was among the worst units on the Michigan roster. Now, however, the Wolverines linebacking corps enters this spring as one of the deepest and strongest units on the team.

Michigan loses depth at the position in J.B. Fitzgerald and Brandon Herron, but has the majority of its rotation players returning from a season ago. Linebacker is one of two positions to actually get deeper from the fall to the spring due to early enrollees.

Expect this position group to make positive movement this season, but here's what Michigan is looking at this spring.

Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin
Senior MLB Kenny Demens (25) returns to lead a deep and talented position group.
What Michigan has back: All three starters return at the position -- senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens and sophomore outside linebackers Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. Depth also returns with seniors Cam Gordon -- who at one time was slated to be a starter at linebacker -- and Brandin Hawthorne, who also was a part-time starter last season. Antonio Poole, a three-star outside linebacker, redshirted last season and will also be available. It might be one of two positions on the Michigan roster with immense competition over the next month.

What Michigan needs to accomplish this spring: This is where it really becomes fun for the Wolverines. The main goal of the spring, along with typical improvement, will be to see where early enrollees Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer fit into the Michigan scheme. Both players have a chance to push the starters and main depth players for playing time early -- perhaps by the end of spring practice. One of the main jobs will be to get the two of them acclimated to the college game, Greg Mattison's system and to college life in general.

Be excited if: There is much reason to be excited by this group. It has a senior leader in Demens. It has young talent all over the place in Ryan and Morgan and the incoming freshman class -- both early enrollees and the ones coming in the fall -- and there is depth. But feel extra happy if Ryan and Morgan make significant leaps over the next month. They both have enormous potential.

Be concerned if: Injuries happen. Just through natural progression even if one of the starters were to falter, Michigan has enough options to have a suitable talented replacement ready to go fairly fast. However, if a rash of injuries were to occur in spring practice, that could be an issue.

Position grade: The depth, talent level and potential to grow are all there for the position. It is one of the strongest on the roster and can only get better as Michigan continues to recruit and improve. The additions it has made from the end of the season to the spring enhance that even more. The only ding here is that there isn't a current star within the unit -- but that could be coming sooner than later. Grade: B+