Michigan Wolverines: Mike McCray II

As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players that if Michigan lost them, the team would be in the most trouble.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Cam Gordon has never been more than a contributor during his first four seasons at Michigan, bouncing between safety and linebacker, an athlete without a position.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While Michigan’s offense has a bunch of questions surrounding who will play where and how much time freshmen might see, the Wolverines’ defense has other issues.

These, though, aren’t so bad.

Michigan has significant depth -- albeit some inexperience -- at every spot on its defense. This allows the Wolverines to come closer to reaching defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s goal of being able to rotate players at both defensive line and linebacker to keep them fresh for later in games and later on in the season.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ideally, this conversation would not happen at Michigan or many other BCS-level programs this fall or any fall. But, things occur because of injuries, attrition and coaching switches so it leads to college coaches looking at guys they recruit and saying the same thing.

Which one of these guys will be able to play right away?

In basketball this is a way of life. In football it can get dangerous, depending on the competition. As Michigan builds up its roster, it has had to rely on freshmen less and less, but this season the Wolverines still will need to look to some first-year players to be key contributors on offense and defense.

Here’s a look at five freshmen -- or spots -- where you could see rookies this fall.


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Michigan has suffered a huge setback early in spring practice, as the team announced Wednesday that junior linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL during Tuesday's practice.

Ryan is the team's top returning defensive player, having led the Wolverines last year with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. We named him to our 2012 All-Big Ten team and rated him No. 17 in our Big Ten postseason player rankings.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIJake Ryan's knee injury leaves a hole in the Michigan defense that will be difficult to fill.
Michigan officials said Ryan is out "indefinitely." If there's any bright side to this injury, it's that it happened on March 19. Typical recovery time for torn ACLs is generally said to be between six to nine months. We don't know how severe Ryan's injury is -- whether it's a complete or partial tear, for instance, or whether there's damage to other ligaments -- but if he were to meet the most optimistic side of that recovery timetable, then he could still come back and play for the Wolverines by midseason. But again, that's if everything goes perfectly.

There have been success stories of athletes recovering quickly from torn ACLs. The most notable one is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season after suffering his ACL tear on Christmas Eve 2011.

"I know he will attack his rehabilitation just like he does everything else and will be back when he's ready," head coach Brady Hoke said in a statement.

Linebacker also looks to be Michigan's deepest position. Hoke told ESPN.com last week before Ryan's injury that "we feel a little stronger at that position" and that he expected great competition. Desmond Morgan, who started at weak side linebacker last year, had been working out at the middle linebacker spot to allow him and rising star James Ross to play at the same time. The Wolverines also have sophomores Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone, senior Mike Jones and incoming freshmen Mike McCray II and Ben Gedeon to compete for snaps.

However, most of those guys -- with the exception of McCray -- profile more as middle or weak side linebackers, and lack the size to play the strong side spot that Ryan occupied. That puts more pressure on senior Cam Gordon -- Ryan's backup -- to play a bigger role. Gordon has appeared in 33 career games, and Hoke praised his winter workout efforts in his interview with ESPN.com last year. But Gordon has yet to show that he can be a star or a major disruptive force the way Ryan has been. Make no mistake about it: this is a big, big loss for Greg Mattison's defense.

The Wolverines have plenty of time to figure out some answers, but it remains to be seen if they can find anyone to fill the playmaking shoes of Ryan. It's the first real negative of the offseason for Michigan, which got great news when Taylor Lewan returned, when Devin Gardner got his extra year of eligibility, and of course on signing day.

Time will tell how well the team will fill in for Ryan, or whether he can return at all for 2013. But until then, the guy with the flowing golden locks and penchant for making impact plays will be sorely missed.

State of the Rivalry: Linebackers 

February, 27, 2013
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The writers at WolverineNation and BuckeyeNation put their heads together to break down the rivals' 2013 recruiting classes. They'll give readers a position-by-position look at who coaches Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer signed and, ultimately, which class edged out the other. It's too early to say what will happen through the next few seasons, and we won't make any promises except that Hoke and Meyer are going to put talent on the field.

Michigan got: The Wolverines picked up two pretty impressive linebackers in Mike McCray (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) and Ben Gedeon (Hudson, Ohio/Hudson). Between the 2012 and 2013 classes, as well as 2014 linebacker commit Michael Ferns (St. Clairsville, Ohio/St. Clairsville) the Wolverines have filled holes pretty well in the middle of the field. Their front seven will continue to get stronger because of solid classes in position groups like this.

However, a few question marks remain as to why the Wolverines had a late interest in linebackers during the 2013 recruiting cycle. Late offers went out to Virginia Tech signee Jamieon Moss (Elizabeth City, N.C./Northeastern) and Michigan State signee Jon Reschke (Bloomfield Hills, Mich./Brother Rice), who spent his entire high school career less than an hour from Ann Arbor (as well as being best friends with quarterback signee Shane Morris). So while it does seem as those holes were filled well, there might be some holes that no one knows about yet, or Greg Mattison might just have something up his sleeve. Overall, was this a good class? Yes. Was it the best class? No.

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Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

Michigan finally returned to a more traditional defensive breakdown last season, where its linebackers weren’t being blown off the ball and making the majority of plays for the Wolverines. That starts with their redshirt junior star, Jake Ryan, who became one of the more recognizable players in the Big Ten by the end of his second season as a starter.

This unit is probably the Wolverines’ strongest unit and of the three spots, they might be most set at strong side linebacker.

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Shoulder injury sidelines U-M commit 

December, 31, 2012
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Practices began Monday morning for the Under Armour All-America Game at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports without outside linebacker Mike McCray II (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison), who underwent surgery this month to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

McCray, a Michigan commit, walked through registration Sunday with his arm in a sling. He said he was disappointed to miss the chance to practice and play this week with five other U-M pledges on the White Team.

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Joe BoldenMiller Safrit/ESPN.comEarly enrollee linebacker Joe Bolden could be the starter at the Mike position in 2014.
It’s always fun to look into the future and guess where players will be after the next few seasons. So Tom and Chantel decided to sit down and do their best to produce the depth chart for the beginning of the 2014 season. They aren’t coaches, nor are they scouts, but this is an educated guess at what could happen over the next few seasons. View the offensive depth chart here.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART:

WDE:

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Mike McCray II is from the Buckeye State. His teammate is committed to Ohio State. And his father played the same position as he for the Buckeyes in the 1980s. So most would assume McCray’s dreams about his future on the field have him at Ohio State.

Except it was a dream about playing for the Buckeyes’ biggest rival that gave him the confirmation he needed to make his college decision.

“I woke up one day and in my heart God was telling me Michigan is the place I need to be,” McCray said Monday night. “I felt like it was the right time and the right decision.”

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Mike McCray II is from the Buckeye State. His teammate is committed to Ohio State. And his father played the same position as he for the Buckeyes in the 1980s. So most would assume McCray’s dreams about his future on the field have him at Ohio State.

Except it was a dream about playing for the Buckeyes’ biggest rival that gave him the confirmation he needed to make his college decision.

“I woke up one day and in my heart God was telling me Michigan is the place I need to be,” McCray said Monday night. “I felt like it was the right time and the right decision.”

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McCray commits to Michigan 

March, 6, 2012
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Michigan's recruiting success early on in the process has continued with the addition of linebacker Mike McCray (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) in the 2013 class. McCray committed to Michigan on Tuesday after taking a visit to Ann Arbor, and he gives the Wolverines one more big-time playmaker in the class.

"I chose Michigan because it is the right place for me," he said. "I just woke up and my heart and God was telling me that Michigan is the place, and it's time to make my decision. That's what I did, and I just followed my heart and God."

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound backer chose Michigan over Illinois, Tennessee, Arizona, Louisville and Nebraska, among others.

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McCray visiting Tennessee before decision 

February, 28, 2012
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ESPNU Watch List outside linebacker Mike McCray II (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) announced he will be making his college decision on March 8, and he will be making two visits in the days before his press conference.

McCray's coach, Mo Douglass, stated in a text message that McCray will visit Tennessee on Saturday. The Tennessee trip has been planned for some time, but there were questions as to whether he was still planning to make the visit.

McCray wrote in a text on Monday he is visiting Michigan on March 6.

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