Michigan Wolverines: Brennen Beyer

Jake Ryan named Michigan MVP

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
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Michigan capped its 2014 season and the Brady Hoke era at its annual awards banquet Tuesday night. Hoke and most of his staff members were on hand, along with approximately 900 other onlookers to honor the Wolverines players.

Hoke, who was fired by Michigan last Tuesday, said he wanted to keep the focus of Monday’s night ceremony on the team’s senior class.

“This football team showed great resiliency throughout a season that saw many external distractions,” he said from the dais. “I’m very proud of them and very proud of what the coaching staff did."

Interim athletic director Jim Hackett and university president Mark Schlissel also spoke. No one from the university answered questions from the media following the event.

All 12 of Michigan’s outgoing seniors thanked Hoke for pushing them and caring for them. Several spoke emotionally about the way their erstwhile head coach cared for them and their teammates.

Fifth-year senior Jake Ryan won the team’s most valuable player award and two others on his final night with the Michigan football program. Ryan made 112 tackles this season after moving to middle linebacker. He is finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the country’s top linebacker. He was also retroactively named a team captain Monday night.

Hoke opted not to name official captains at the start of the 2014 season because he felt that caused some teams to feel entitled in the past. He met with the team last Tuesday to tell them he wouldn’t be returning in 2015. He told them at that time that Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner would be honored as this season’s two captains.

Bo Schembechler MVP: Linebacker Jake Ryan

Ryan: “It’s an honor. I just want to thank my teammates. I’ve learned so much from them, and I hope they’ve learned a little from me.”

Dr. Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award (leading senior scholar): Offensive lineman Joey Burzynski

Burzynski: “After my first exams I called home to tell them I got an A-, and my mom said, ‘Careful, those A- will catch up to you.’”

Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award (best offensive lineman): Center Jack Miller

Miller: “I share this award with everyone on the offensive line, probably the most improved group on the team this season.”

Roger Zatkoff Award (best linebacker): Ryan

Robert P. Ufer Bequest (team spirit): Defensive end Brennen Beyer

Beyer: “This season was full of trials of all kinds ... This year more than any other I grew as a leader, teammate and a man.”

Richard Katcher Award (best defensive lineman): Beyer

Captains Award: Gardner and Ryan

Gardner: “I stayed, and I will the rest of my life as a champion.”

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
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Michigan had a reason to celebrate this weekend for the first time in more than a month. The Wolverines beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday to avoid the program’s first 0-3 start in conference play in more than four decades.

The atmosphere at the Big House has been lacking excitement this season, but Michigan can still put on a good show in primetime. The Wolverines are now 3-0 when they play at night on their home field. Here are some of the players who shined brightest under the lights:

PK Matt Wile: A week after having a game-winning attempt blocked at Rutgers, Michigan’s Matt Wile connected in the fourth quarter on a field goal that wound up clinching the victory. Wile was 3 for 3 on Saturday, splitting the uprights from 45, 42 and 37 yards out. He buoyed a struggling offense by providing 10 of the team’s 18 points. The senior has made seven of his last eight kicks since missing two against Notre Dame. The only unsuccessful attempt in that stretch was the 56-yarder that Rutgers blocked a week ago.

Gardner
QB Devin Gardner: Gardner showed his growing leadership on the sideline by barking at this team regularly in the second half. He showed it on the field by returning to the game with a hobbled ankle and completing two passes to set Wile up for his fourth-quarter field goal. He also hooked up with wide receiver Devin Funchess for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts since regaining his starting spot against Rutgers.

DE Brennen Beyer: Two of Michigan’s six sacks came from Beyer, who had a dominant day against the Penn State tackles. He finished with four total stops. Beyer’s biggest contribution came late in the third quarter when he and fellow end Frank Clark pinned Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the pocket on a third-down play. Hackenberg panicked under pressure and tossed an interception across his body to cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Michigan tied the game with a field goal four plays later.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For many months, there has been hand-wringing and consternation about the state of Michigan's offensive line. But what about the other side of the trenches?

The Wolverines' defensive line has produced at a mediocre rate, at best, since Brady Hoke's first season in 2011. That's a fact that has to eat at both Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who are both former defensive line coaches.

[+] EnlargeBrennen Beyer
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMISenior defensive end Brennen Beyer will be a key contributor for the Wolverines in 2014.
But unlike the offensive line, which exited spring with question marks remaining, there is hope that Michigan can turn this position into a strength again.

"I've been here for four years and I've seen three different defensive fronts come through here," senior defensive end Frank Clark said. "And I think it’s the best one we’ve had."

The group blends a mixture of veterans and youth, with many of the young players getting valuable exposure last season. Some of them were hyped recruits who display obvious size and athleticism, such as sophomores Taco Charlton (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), Chris Wormley (6-4, 292) and Willie Henry (6-2, 297). New position coach Mark Smith, who mentored the linebackers the previous three years, was understandably excited for a chance to mold those guys.

"I didn't inherit a bunch of plow horses, now," he said. "I inherited a bunch of thoroughbreds. We look good coming off the bus. We've just got to get the mental aspects of it and our philosophy and the mindset we want up front."

Clark epitomizes the D-line crew in many ways. Long heralded as a star in the making, he started to deliver on some of that promise last season with 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks. After briefly considering a jump to the NFL, he returned to campus determined to do even more in his last go-round.

"I’m the vet," he said. "I’m the big dog now."

Another senior, Brennen Beyer, will man the other defensive end spot. Beyer has moved around a lot in his career and sometimes is taken for granted. But Smith said Beyer is one of the best players and leaders on the defense.

Then there's Charlton, who has enough potential to make Michigan fans salivate. Given the nickname Taco from his grandmother when he was born prematurely and weighed less than three pounds, he's more like a fully loaded burrito now. Even playing last season as a true freshman, Charlton said he never felt overmatched physically.

"It wasn't really hard because of my body," he said. "But now I feel like a mature guy, and everything is coming more easily. I know what it takes to play, so I can really relax now and just play without much thinking."

"Taco has immeasurable potential," Smith said. "That kid can be as good as he wants."

How good the Wolverines' line will be this fall likely hinges on the inside spots, where the team replaces starters Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington. Henry and Wormley played a lot there in 2013 and should improve after getting a season under their belts.

"Chris Wormley is one of those guys who, when he walks in a room, you go, 'Ooh, that's what it's supposed to look like,'" Smith said. "He's come a long way, but in a lot of ways, he's still figuring out what it takes to be an every-down player here."

Redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst Jr. made a strong impression this spring at tackle, while sophomores Matthew Godin and Ryan Glasgow and early enrollee freshman Bryan Mone also saw a lot of reps. Ondre Pipkins will eventually be back from a knee injury. The coaching staff believes it has now developed depth that will allow it to comfortably rotate several bodies this fall.

The players just have to prove themselves on the field and show they can apply pressure on the quarterback without help, something that has been problematic the past couple of seasons.

"We have a multitude of pass rushers, and we've got physical guys in the middle," Clark said. "If four can rush the passer and let everybody else drop into coverage and do their jobs, that’s when you have a great defense."

Michigan hasn't reached that level in a while. The potential of the defensive line at least offers some hope of returning there.
Spring practice in the Big Ten has sadly come to an end, and we're both back home after some trips around the conference. Wednesday, we shared out thoughts on the Big Ten's West Division, and now it's time to turn our focus to the beast known as the East.

Brian dropped in on Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and Adam stopped by Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's begin with your trip to the Mitten State. You made your first stop in Ann Arbor, where Michigan was wrapping up its first spring with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Michigan's top priority is the offense and fixing the line. What did you gather about the unit, and how are the changes on the defense -- player positions and coaching roles -- working out?

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
AP Photo/Tony DingNew OC Doug Nussmeier's top priority is fixing Michigan's offensive line.
Brian Bennett: Things definitely seem a lot smoother on defense. Jake Ryan adopted quickly to playing middle linebacker, and James Ross III is talented enough to play anywhere. Mark Smith picked a good time to take over the defensive line, as he'll have a pair of senior ends in Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and some nice young talent to work with in Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, etc. Throw Jabrill Peppers into the mix in the back end this summer, and this has a chance to be a very solid defense.

It's just a matter of whether the offense can keep up. The Wolverines are very young on that side of the ball, and the line is full of redshirt freshmen and sophomores right now. Mason Cole enrolled in January and was starting at left tackle in spring ball, which said a lot about the state of the position. Michigan's season likely depends on whether that O-line can come together and raise its collective level of play. There are some good-looking athletes at receiver and running back, but not many of them are proven. Many big questions remain in Ann Arbor.

AR: There are fewer questions at Michigan State. How did the defending Big Ten/Rose Bowl champs seem to be handling their success? And how are they replacing defensive standouts such as cornerback Darqueze Dennard?

BB: Several players told me they were sick of talking about the Rose Bowl, which is a good sign. I saw a team that could definitely repeat as Big Ten champions. The offense brings back most of its major pieces and will add new weapons suchas tight end Jamal Lyles and quarterback/athlete Damion Terry. The early-season scoring droughts of years past should not happen again this fall.

No doubt Pat Narduzzi's crew lost a lot -- four All-Big Ten defenders, plus both starting defensive tackles. Michigan State has a big experience gap to make up, especially at linebacker. But this is a program that just seems to reload on defense now and has recruited so well to its system. Guys like defensive tackle Joel Heath, defensive end Demetrius Cooper and safety Jalyn Powell all came on strong this spring. Three of the corners vying to replace Dennard had interceptions in the spring game. I have supreme confidence that Narduzzi will have this defense dominating again in 2014.

AR: Ohio State's defense has many more question marks after a rough 2013 campaign. The line should be terrific but how did the back seven look during your trip to Columbus? And how are new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson fitting into the mix? What else stood out about the Buckeyes?

BB: In my eyes, this is one of the most intriguing teams anywhere. The Buckeyes are almost frightfully young on offense outside of Braxton Miller and are breaking in lots of new players at linebacker and in the secondary. Yet they also have some impressive looking athletes and more overall explosiveness than the previous two seasons under Urban Meyer. Ash is installing a quarters coverage look, but maybe even more important is the fact that the safeties can really run and cover now. The revamped offensive line is a big question mark, as is the inexperience at receiver and the linebacker spot. But when you see young guys like linebacker Raekwon McMillan and tailback Curtis Samuel running around, you realize there aren't a lot of Big Ten teams that look like the Buckeyes.

Adam, you made it up to State College to check in on Penn State and new coach James Franklin. What's the vibe like up there?

AR: Electric. The charismatic staff has quickly formed bonds with the players, some of whom knew Franklin from the recruiting process. The defense should be better under Bob Shoop's leadership, as long as the starters stay healthy. There's decent depth up front and safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Jordan Lucas anchor the secondary. Linebacker Mike Hull is embracing his role as the unit's leader. Christian Hackenberg can really spin the ball -- very impressive. But can PSU protect him? No Big Ten team, including Ohio State, has bigger issues along the offensive line. Running back Bill Belton looked great, and I like the depth at tight end. Franklin is realistic about the depth issues and knows his team can't afford many more injuries.

You also visited Indiana this spring. How did the Hoosiers look, especially on defense with new coordinator Brian Knorr?

BB: You know the drill. Indiana could make some real noise if it could actually, you know, stop anybody. Knorr has them playing a 3-4, and hey have some major beef inside with the defensive tackles in 325-pounders Darius Latham and Ralph Green III. Ten starters are back and some promising recruits are on the way, so there's more depth on defense than before. But it's still a major construction project, and the offense might lose a little of its big-play ability as it tries to replace three of its top four receivers from a season ago.

OK, lightning-round finish. I still see Michigan State and Ohio State as the heavy favorites here, with Penn State a dark horse if its O-line issues can be solved. What about you?

AR: MSU is the team to beat because of the quarterback and the track record on defense. Ohio State definitely is in that mix, too. Michigan remains young at spots but could contend with a serviceable run game. Offensive line is a huge issue in this division. Sleeper-wise, I wouldn't count out Penn State, Indiana or Maryland, which could be dynamic on offense if it finally stays healthy.

Michigan spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
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The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • Front seven, front and center: The Wolverines didn't stand pat on defense this offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now coaching the linebackers, while Mark Smith moved down to take over the defensive line. They also shuffled their linebackers, switching Jake Ryan to the middle and emerging star James Ross III to the strong side. The moves seemed to work out well this spring, with Ryan looking like his old playmaking self a year removed from ACL surgery. The defensive line could be one of the team's strengths, led by senior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and improving youngsters Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. Mattison wants to blitz more this season and hopes the defensive line can get more pressure on its own.
  • Early enrollees, immediate impact: When players skip the final half of their high school senior years to enroll in college in January, the hope is that they will be more advanced than most freshmen. Wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole exceeded those expectations. Both impressed the coaching staff right away, with Canteen drawing raves and Cole getting a lot of first-team reps at left tackle. Both were with the starting unit during the spring game and figure to have roles on the team this fall.
  • More QB clarity: Brady Hoke talked of a quarterback competition this spring, and Devin Gardner wasn't originally expected to do a whole lot while recovering from a broken foot. But Gardner surprised the coaches by fulling participating in all 15 spring practices and asserting his hold on the position. Hoke said Shane Morris closed the gap a bit on Gardner and that the competition would continue. But even though Gardner didn't play well in the spring game, it's pretty clear that this remains his team.
Three questions for the fall

  • Can O-line be less offensive?: New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has brought a simplified blocking scheme and a focus on running downhill. Players said there were times this spring when that was effective. But concerns about the youth and chemistry on the line remain, and not just because of another shaky performance in the spring game. When a mid-year enrollee (Cole) is starting at left tackle, that raises serious red flags. The return of Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski from injury and Graham Glasgow from his one-game suspension will help the experience and talent level. But for now, the line is full of young, unproven players who must find a way to raise their games between now and late August.
  • Skill position suspense: With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo graduated, Devin Funchess is the only returning receiver with more than 15 career catches. Canteen's emergence provided another option at the position, but a lot of question marks remain at wideout. Michigan is hoping Jehu Chesson, Csont'e York, Da'Mario Jones and Dennis Norfleet step forward, Amara Darboh successfully returns from injury and freshman Drake Harris can contribute. But there are few sure things. At running back, the team is hopeful that Derrick Green breaks out as a sophomore and De'Veon Smith joins him for a powerful duo. Again, though, it's mostly optimism and little track record at this point.
  • Enough leadership? Hoke has suggested that he wasn't thrilled with the leadership during last season's 7-5 team. He and the players have said that the chemistry and accountability have been good this spring. The fact remains, however, that this team has only 12 seniors, and only seven of them are position players who see the field a lot. Leadership will also have to come from the junior class and elsewhere if Michigan wants to get over the hump of mediocrity.
One way-too-early prediction

Jabrill Peppers immediately becomes the team's best defensive back. That's a bold call, as Peppers isn't even on campus yet. But he was the No. 2 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 for a reason, and he should be the kind of physical, cover corner that Michigan has lacked. The Wolverines could try him in several different positions, but if he's the real deal, he can start quickly at cornerback. Program insiders believe his ceiling could be in the Charles Woodson neighborhood. No pressure, kid.

Spring game recap: Michigan

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
10:15
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Spring (practice) has officially sprung for Michigan, which became the first Big Ten team to hold its spring game on Saturday at the Big House.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 took in the festivities, which included a non-scoring scrimmage. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here. And here's a brief recap:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and completed just two passes in the Wolverines' spring game.
Star of the game: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two interceptions on the day, though he was also whistled for two pass interference penalties.

How it went down: It was just a spring game, and as most teams are wont to do, the Wolverines kept things very vanilla for their first public practice session of the year.

Still, fans had hoped to see some inklings of progress, especially from the new offense led by coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Alabama in the winter. Players had talked about making more big plays in practice in Nussmeier's scheme.

There wasn't much evidence of that on Saturday. On the very first snap of the scrimmage, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Lewis in his own territory. Gardner -- still not 100 percent on his healing foot -- would finish just 2-for-10 for 53 yards, though he's in no danger of losing the job. Backup Shane Morris went 5-for-11 for 73 yards, and his final throw was also picked off by Lewis, who started at corner and made a nice impression in that competition. (He'll need to keep doing that this summer, since Jabrill Peppers is on the way).

"I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year," Lewis said afterward. "We are playing more man-to-man and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it."

The one big play was a 44-yard strike from Gardner to Freddy Canteen, the early enrollee who has been the talk of the spring in Ann Arbor. He looks like the real deal and will likely earn a starting job at receiver.

The running game produced mixed results. De'Veon Smith got the most reps with the first unit, running nine times for 21 yards. Derrick Green added 16 yards on six carries, while Justice Hayes had six attempts for 33 yards. The offensive line, which included early enrollee Mason Cole as the first-team left tackle, struggled to open up holes and get a push up front. The defense registered five sacks, including one each from defensive linemen Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Willie Henry.

"Inconsistent" is how coach Brady Hoke described the offensive performance.

"I think there were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with," he said. "We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of the 15 practices, I think there has been some real improvements made."

Hoke has maintained all along that a team depending on many freshmen and sophomores will need some time to come together. On Saturday, they showed that in several key areas.

"There's no question," Hoke said, "we need a lot of improvement."

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
5:00
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Spring practice is in full swing around the Big Ten, and we've got you covered. Be sure to check us out on Twitter.

Mail call ...

Lance from Mooresville, N.C., writes: Some hypotheticals for you in regards to the 2013 Spartans: 1. If Le'Veon [Bell] would have stayed, would MSU have won a national title? Or would MSU have used him as a crutch like it did in 2012. 2. If MSU would have beat tOSU in the BIG CCG by 20-plus points and not given tOSU the lead back in the third quarter, would it have gone to the NCG? 3) How crazy is it that the BCS came a year too late for U of M and they didn't get an outright national title, and the playoff came a year too late for MSU, and it didn't get a chance to play for one either.

Adam Rittenberg: 1. I don't think Le'Veon Bell, as good as he is, would have been the difference in Michigan State winning a national title. And as you note, it might have changed how the coaches approached the quarterback position. MSU needed to lean more on its QB, partly because Bell wasn't there, and it allowed for Connor Cook to emerge. 2. Maybe if Missouri had beaten Auburn, MSU could have vaulted into the No. 2 spot. There was a strong push to get the SEC champ in the game after the run of national titles, but Missouri didn't have the backing that Auburn did. 3. I guess the college football powers-that-be are anti-Mitten State. It's really too bad MSU didn't have a chance to participate in a playoff last year.

 




Puck from Chesapeake, Va., writes: What impact does Taco Charlton make the for Wolverines this fall? I want him to be a game-changer!

Adam Rittenberg: Puck, few young players impressed me more physically on my spring trips last year than Taco Charlton. Freshmen simply don't look like that very often. He got a small taste of game action last fall, appearing in 10 games as a reserve and recording two tackles. I'm interested to see if he makes a significant jump in Year 2. Michigan needs more pass-rushing production, and while Charlton is behind Brennen Beyer, he could have a bigger role. Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia are on the other side and boast more experience, but I don't know if any Michigan defensive end has Charlton's physical gifts.

 




Leo from Philadelphia writes: I grew up in close proximity to both Maryland and Rutgers. I feel like I know what both schools represent (having lots of friends from each), and I can't see either being a rival to Penn State (for obvious reasons). I understand why people from those schools try to justify it, but in reality Penn State has no true rival in the B1G. Ohio State might be the closest thing, but at the end of the day it's not (for obvious reasons). If the Big Ten caters to it, Nebraska, Wisconsin or Michigan State have serious potential (mainly Nebraska). Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Leo, the only way Maryland or Rutgers becomes Penn State's rival is if one or both start beating the Lions on a regular basis. James Franklin's connection to Maryland makes that series more interesting, but I can't call it a rivalry until the Terps start winning. Penn State will see Ohio State, Michigan and MSU annually in the East Division, but all three programs have bigger rivals. A lot of Penn State and Nebraska fans wanted to see that series continue annually, but the division realignment makes it tough. Penn State might never have a true Big Ten rival. At least Pitt returns to the schedule in 2016.

 




Stephen from Mount Prospect, Ill., writes: Where do you stand on conference games beginning from Week 1? I think one of the more overlooked parts of the early part of the schedule is the effects it has on rankings and conference prestige. More early conference games will truly show who are the top teams. Look at the Michigan game when it lost to App State. It was the first game of the year, and the Wolverines were ranked fifth. It was a huge deal that they lost, and the perception was that the Big Ten was bad that season. If they played them at the end of the season with three losses, it wouldn't have been as big of a story.

Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, some really good points here. I've long been in favor of earlier conference games because they add some spice to those September Saturdays. No one like the Big Ten's MAC/FCS Invitational, which seems to take place one Saturday per season. Sprinkling in earlier league games, as we'll see in the near future, ensures the league remains somewhat relevant in the national discussion. But your point about early league games shedding light on which teams are good and which teams are not is very valid. I hate preseason polls and early-season rankings, but they would be slightly more accurate if teams faced stronger competition in September.

 




Al Baker from Lincoln, Neb., writes: It's Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, not Edwardsville, a much smaller satellite campus.

Adam Rittenberg: Actually, the Illinois state senators were referring to the Edwardsville campus, in the context of having a Big Ten candidate closer to a larger media market (St. Louis). Carbondale brings nothing to the Big Ten in terms of market. Same goes for Illinois State, Northern Illinois and most of the highly unrealistic candidates for Big Ten expansion. SIU-Edwardsville at least has location in its favor, but not much else.
At this time last year, prospects for the SAM linebacker position were great. But by the end of spring football, there were more questions and fears than anything else because of Jake Ryan’s ACL tear. But Ryan made a speedy recovery and an impressive return, and his absence early in the season brought more depth to the SAM spot. A lot can happen between now and next fall, but at this point, there seems to be the same optimism there was a year ago.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJake Ryan, coming off a torn ACL that cost him a sizable chunk of his junior season, should be the full-time SAM linebacker in 2014.
THE GOOD: Senior Cam Gordon and junior Brennen Beyer really played well as they stepped in for Ryan. Some wondered if there would be a huge drop in production or a gap in the defense without Ryan on the field and it really didn’t seem that noticeable in the first few games, which is a credit to Beyer, Gordon and the defensive coaches. In the 2012 season, Ryan took the majority of snaps at the SAM position and Beyer played on the defensive line, so neither Gordon nor Beyer came in with the experience of an upperclassman at the position. But with Ryan sidelined, both played very, very well, and when Ryan came back, the rotation still seemed to work. Gordon led the team in sacks (five) and Beyer was second on the team with five quarterback hurries. Ryan played in eight games and finished the season with 30 tackles. The position, as a whole, was productive. The three accounted for 97 tackles, including 17 for loss.

THE BAD: Obviously the Ryan injury was terribly unfortunate for both himself and the defense. Had he played a whole season and been 100 percent, he could have been in the running for conference or national awards, based in his production in 2012 as a sophomore. The injury also forced Beyer and Gordon to move around … again. Gordon came in to Michigan as a wide receiver before being moved to safety and then outside linebacker. Beyer has flip-flopped from SAM to defensive end nearly every season for the Wolverines. All things considered, the trio seemed to make the best out of a situation that was less than favorable.

THE FUTURE: Ryan will be the Wolverines’ starter in 2014 as a senior, and with another offseason of weight training and conditioning, he should be able to play almost full games at the spot. When he needs to take a break here and there, the coaches are going to have to decide whether they want to go with Beyer -- who should be back on the defensive line, but can come in at SAM to give Ryan a break -- or Allen Gant, who could use the experience as a sophomore but only played on special teams this season. Past that, the coaching staff would really be looking at true freshman talent, so it seems doubtful they’d get that far. Depending on the situation, Gant might be the better way to go because he’s going to need the experience. Ryan and Beyer will graduate after next season, so it would be good to have someone step into Ryan’s shoes with a bit of experience.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line
Defensive line
Middle, weakside linebackers
The offensive and defensive lines underachieved this season for Michigan. For a program that wants its identity to be in the trenches, this wasn’t exactly a poster year.

[+] EnlargeFrank Clark
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsFrank Clark showed signs of his potential and should provide leadership on Michigan's defensive line.
THE GOOD: Frank Clark didn’t have the season that many anticipated he would, especially after Taylor Lewan had said that when they went up against each other last spring and in the fall, he thought Clark could be an All-American. However, he did show that he could play in the Big Ten and beyond. He led the team in tackles for a loss (12 for 38 yards), sacks (4.5 for 26 yards), quarterback hurries (7) and fumble recoveries (2 for 24 yards). He’ll be back in 2014, which is a very good thing for Michigan. Brennen Beyer who will likely play on the D-line primarily, also returns. Beyer and Clark should provide leadership for some younger D-linemen. Another bright spot for this past season was redshirt freshman Willie Henry, who recorded 32 tackles -- second best on the team for a defensive lineman.

THE BAD: The goal was to get a solid four-man rush, and the Wolverines never consistently achieved it in 2013. Michigan decided not to hire a D-line coach when Jeremy Montgomery left. Instead, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke took over the defensive line responsibilities. With those two leading the way, there was an assumption that this unit would have been more productive than they actually were. Michigan recorded 25 sacks (65th nationally, seventh in the Big Ten) and opposing quarterbacks completed 42 passes of 20 or more yards (69th nationally, eighth in the Big Ten). The sack totals are on the D-line. The long completions are shared by the defense as a whole, but it definitely would’ve been better if the defensive line had been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.

THE FUTURE: Clark, along with Beyer, are the leaders of this group. They’ll probably be the two starting defensive ends. Taco Charlton is a name to keep track of as he’ll likely be a backup at both positions. Henry should look to be more productive inside and will spend the offseason gaining chemistry with Ondre Pipkins. Chris Wormley is another player who showed major potential and will be a big contributor in 2014, especially if the defensive line rotates as much as it did last fall. From the 2014 class, defensive tackle Bryan Mone enrolled early so he’ll have a jump start on the competition during spring football. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he already has very good size for a tackle. By comparison, Henry is 6-foot-2, 306 pounds and Pipkins is 6-foot-3, 315 pounds.

Previous posts:
Quarterback
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight end
Offensive line
Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s especially hard to draw conclusions about what could’ve or should’ve happened when an injury is involved. But with how confident the coaches seem to be in Jake Ryan in everything he does, I don’t think they should’ve had anything but confidence when he said he’d be back by October. So while this shoulda, woulda, coulda is shaped around Brennen Beyer, it also has Ryan as a key component.
Previous posts:

Coulda, shoulda, woulda: Jake Butt

Coulda, shoulda, woulda: Derrick Green

[+] EnlargeBrennen Beyer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallGetting Brennen Beyer more reps at DE early would have helped Michigan's DE during the Big Ten season.
Shoulda … played Beyer at defensive end some through the first four games. Before Ryan came back the coaches said that they weren’t really thinking about what they would do when Ryan got back on to the field. However, even if Ryan didn’t play quite as well as he did last season (and I still think Ryan could best that in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), I think they knew he’d be a SAM, that he’d take reps, that he would be a player they wanted on the field. With that mindset, they should’ve been preparing Cameron Gordon and Beyer for that and deciding what to do with them. There’s no problem with Beyer still taking reps at SAM, but he could’ve been building in-game chemistry with the defensive linemen and getting game reps there through the first four games.

Coulda … Put more pressure on opposing QBs throughout the season. It's hard to put a number or exact statistic on this, but Beyer is definitely one of the better pass rushers on the team. Chemistry is really important on the defensive line and with him up front gaining chemistry with other players early in the season, it would’ve allowed the line to be more consistent later in the season. It also would’ve meant another leader on the defensive line. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington were good leaders up there, but having another upperclassmen to work with the younger guys, get players up for games, and keep them organized is never a bad thing, especially when some of the defensive line issues stemmed from communication problems. Beyer isn’t the loudest person in the world, but he’s definitely more talkative than Washington and a bit louder than Black.

Woulda … Had a better idea of what their line would look like through conference play. The Michigan defensive line didn’t reach the expectation for the position this season, but having Beyer take a few reps through the non-conference schedule would’ve given the D-line a chance to be closer to that expectation by the end of the season. The coaches should’ve trusted that Ryan would return, and had they started giving Beyer time on the line two or three weeks before they expected Ryan back, it would’ve given the defensive line a jump start in the Big Ten season.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke gave his team a bit of a lighter schedule during this bye week -- getting back to practice Thursday while doing lifting and conditioning throughout the week. Hoke said they would focus on getting the team healed a bit and begin thinking about Michigan State (Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.

Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.

Offensively

Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.

[+] EnlargeAl Borges
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIAl Borges is still examining his options on offense.
Michigan will always start up front, so that seems a good place to begin. The offensive line has gone through multiple starting lineups, and still, nine weeks into the season, the Wolverines don’t know what their best unit is up front.

Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.

“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. … We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”

The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.

Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.

However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.

The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.

“We’re not becoming a spread team … but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. … If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”

Defensively

Michigan’s defense looked so solid … up until last week.

But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHow close Jake Ryan is to 100 percent will impact the Wolverines' defensive plans.
Mattison said he’d spend every second this week planning for the Spartans’ attack, which has gotten stronger every game since Connor Cook took the starting QB job. But even with that, Mattison said he feels good about what kind of team will take the field in a week in East Lansing.

“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”

The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.

If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.

The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.

Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.

“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
12:00
PM ET
The Bro Code has been around for centuries. Nay, whatever's more than centuries.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
12:00
PM ET
We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
Even at 4-0, we've seen the best and worst out of Brady Hoke's team this season. With four games under the Wolverines' belt and eight (or nine ... or 10) more to go, here's what we've gathered, and have yet to gather, about this Michigan team.

What we know so far

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner, Jefferson Ashiru
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDevin Gardner has been both a playmaker and an enigma through Michigan's first four games.
1. When Michigan is on, it's very, very pretty. The Wolverines rolled against Central Michigan and Notre Dame. Following those two games, Michigan was being talked of -- understandably so -- as a top-10 team, and quarterback Devin Gardner was in Heisman conversations. That has been derailed a bit since, but it was pretty apparent that when Michigan is kicking on all cylinders, it's a hard team to stop, and it fields a defense that can stop others, too. If the Wolverines can find that groove and keep it, they could head into the final weekend of November undefeated.

2. The linebackers might be the most solid position group on the team, even without Jake Ryan. Who would've thought that was possible? When Ryan went down with an ACL tear, for many Michigan fans it seemed as though their worlds were crashing down. But instead, Brennen Beyer has been a very good SAM linebacker, and Desmond Morgan and James Ross III both have been solid. Not to mention the depth behind those three in Cameron Gordon and Joe Bolden. With the expected return of Ryan sometime in October, it's pretty crazy to think how talented the linebackers will be and what exactly they'll do to distribute the wealth. Assuming Ryan is back in tip-top shape, the Wolverines could use Beyer on the both the D-line and at SAM ,as he has played both over the two years, or, Mattison could scheme completely differently.

3. The defense has bent but not broken -- under Greg Mattison this has seemed to be a trait of a Wolverine D. Whether it be because they lack depth at certain positions or the offense just keeps putting them in tough spots, the Michigan defense has found itself in a number of tight situations but been on the winning end nearly all the time. Between the quick-change situations because of turnovers or the quick scoring situations in other games, the Wolverines have found themselves trotting on the field just as quickly as they left it. In a lot of young teams, that kind of mental turnover can create mistakes, but Michigan hasn't been a victim of that too badly. The defense obviously needs work, but their focus and ability to respond hasn't gone unnoticed.

Lingering questions

1. Is there enough talent/depth to put together an offensive line? Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield seem to be safe. However, the interior three spots are written in pencil, as Hoke and Al Borges have said over and over again. But the interior line has struggled quite a bit, specifically the last two games. Lewan said that Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis displayed a sense of urgency in the second half against UConn, but that was about six quarters too late. Michigan really hasn't funneled anyone else through there, so the coaching staff was either waiting until the bye week to test guys at different positions, or they don't have enough depth (or they have too many injuries). It could be a combination of many things, but there's a decent chance that we won't see the same starting five against Minnesota.

2. What happened to Gardner? Can it really be fixed? Can it be avoided? Throughout his career, he seemed completely unfazed by the pressures of being a Michigan quarterback, going through a position change, stepping into the spotlight, what have you. But for some reason, all that came crashing down against Akron and UConn. The young, inexperienced Gardner came to the forefront, and for the most part, he looked out of synch. But give him some props -- when Michigan desperately needed a score against the Zips and Huskies, he got the Wolverines in position to get one. But outside of that, the turnovers looked atrocious. Worse yet, Hoke said they've reached a point where they're re-coaching him, or having to give him the same correction multiple times, because he's making the same error multiple times. That was not a problem earlier in his career. But it's crucial Michigan figures out what happened to Gardner, not only so they can fix it, but also so they can avoid it in the future.

3. Is the secondary going to step up? The Wolverines' defensive pressure up front has steadily improved through the non-conference schedule, and that has helped all the defenders behind it. It seems strange to start up front when discussing a problem with the secondary, but part of the reason the secondary is giving up so many big pass plays is the fact that the D-line's pass rush hasn't always been fantastic. Every single play of 20 or more yards the Wolverines have given up has been through the air. The secondary has played soft coverage time and time again, and the players keep getting beat. The Wolverines are going to face quarterbacks -- like Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- that will try to exploit that as much as they can, because that'll only open up the run game for their backs (or for themselves).

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
9:00
AM ET
The last two weeks I’ve had to try really hard to narrow down which players most deserve a helmet sticker. This week, the exact opposite is true. Searching for deserving players is like searching for a flea on a dog. It’s hard work and once you find it, you’re still not sure you’re happy you did. But, here are your Week 3 candidates.

1. Michigan’s linebackers.

Jake Ryan who? (Kidding!) Junior Brennen Beyer’s QB hurry on the final play sealed the Wolverines’ win. Beyer had just two tackles total and one other quarterback hurry, but he was clutch when Michigan needed it most. And just one play before, junior Desmond Morgan came up with a huge tackle for a loss when he pushed Jawon Chisholm back 2 yards to the 4-yard line. Morgan finished with seven tackles, including two for losses. But it was sophomore James Ross III who had the biggest day of any Michigan linebacker, leading the way with 10 tackles, including one for a loss and one pass breakup.

2. WR Jehu Chesson.

The redshirt freshman caught the first pass of his career and turned it into a 33-yard TD. He showed good hands and breakaway speed on the play. Michigan’s wide receivers had a decent day; senior Jeremy Gallon could be a helmet-sticker guy as he led Michigan’s receivers on the day. However, Chesson’s first career TD happens only once.

3. Akron kicker Robert Stein/Goal post

The Wolverines won by four. Stein missed two field goals. So, math … this one should be self explanatory. Had he made those two kicks, the game might’ve turned out differently. Stein had nailed the first 45-yarder of the game and missed the second. And the Wolverines should send fruit baskets and thank you cards to the post, which blocked Stein’s second FG attempt.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12