Michigan Wolverines: Ryan Van Bergen

Depth chart analysis: Strongside end 

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
12:00
PM ET
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.

Since Brady Hoke has taken over at Michigan, the strongside end has been a position of production for the Wolverines, from Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger in 2011 to Craig Roh last season. Now, though, the Wolverines will likely have a young, inexperienced player manning the spot for the first time in a few seasons.

Who that is will be up for debate.
Brady HokeRobin Alam/Icon SMIBrady Hoke's drive to win the Big Ten title appears to be influencing his Michigan players.
Brady Hoke called Michigan's 2011 season a failure -- never mind the 11 wins and the Sugar Bowl championship -- because it did not result in a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance.

When national titles are brought up around Hoke, he typically shifts the focus back to the Big Ten race.

Whether Hoke's singular focus excites you or disappoints you, it certainly rubs off on his players. Although they weren't happy about a 2-2 start to the season, they had no trouble turning the page to the Big Ten slate last week at Purdue. And if the Wolverines' performance in West Lafayette -- a 44-13 win -- is any indication, the Big Ten will bring out the best in them this fall.

"With the nonconference season, we had one of the toughest in the nation," Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan told ESPN.com, referring to games against No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Notre Dame. "We took those games very seriously, but the goal's always a Big Ten championship. There's a little more fire in this team.

"We're excited about it, and every game is a Big Ten championship game."

Stifling defense and powerful offensive line play sparked Michigan in 2011, and the Wolverines appear to be reclaiming both hallmarks for the 2012 conference campaign. After struggling in just about every area against Alabama and seeing continued problems against Air Force, Michigan took a big step on defense against Notre Dame and also received better play from the offensive line as the game in South Bend went on.

Although turnovers doomed the Wolverines against the Irish, they made progress in both areas at Purdue. Michigan held a Boilers team averaging 51 points on its home field to 13 points, 213 total yards and 56 rushing yards (2.2 yards per attempt). It also controlled the line of scrimmage from the onset, holding the ball for 12:11 of the first quarter and opening the game with the program's sixth-longest drive (8:48) since 1978, a methodical 78-yard march that required 17 plays and 19 players.

Michigan's defense has surrendered only 13 points in each of its past three games, and opponents' yardage totals have dropped (259 to 239 to 213). The unit seemed to turn the corner at the same time last season, when it blanked Minnesota 58-0 in Week 5, allowing only 177 total yards. The Wolverines held six of their next seven Big Ten foes to fewer than 335 yards.

"What you're seeing is the younger guys who have been in the program for a second year, you would expect them to play up to their talent level, and that's what's happening," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison told ESPN.com. "Some of our talented young guys are starting to now become older, and play like older players."

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
Sandra Dukes/US PresswireMichigan LB Jake Ryan continued to wow his coaches with his performance against Purdue last Saturday.
Although Mattison and his staff installed a new scheme in 2011, they had the luxury of leaning on three senior defensive linemen -- Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger -- while working several young players into major roles. The difference this fall, according to Mattison: Seniors with a ton of starting experience are in short supply, so some of the unit's more seasoned players -- Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, Thomas Gordon -- are also young.

"We're getting a lot better communication," Mattison said. "... When you're young, at an early part of the season, you're just kind of fending for yourself. You're just trying to get yourself to play. And when you get a little older in the season, whether you're a sophomore or a senior, you start feeling more comfortable. Therefore, you can do the things that are expected of you, and that is to communicate and get everybody set.

"These are guys that are now starting to feel like veterans."

Hoke singled out the linebackers as the group that has made the most strides in recent weeks. Ryan, who started 11 games last season as a redshirt freshman, has been particularly noticeable. "You can feel him on the field," Hoke said.

Ryan recorded five tackles and a pass breakup against Notre Dame and followed it with six tackles, including two for loss and a sack, against Purdue.

"The sky's the limit for Jake," Mattison said. "He has God-given talent, and he also has showed that it's very, very important to him. He's become a very good student of the game."

After Week 3, Lewan challenged the offensive line to "play angry, play nasty." While the group isn't quite there, in Lewan's estimation, there has been progress.

Michigan averaged 5.6 yards per rush against a talented Purdue defensive front, which failed to record a sack or a quarterback hurry against Denard Robinson (235 rush yards, 105 pass yards). The Wolverines' rushing attempts also are on the rise, from 30 per game in the first two weeks to 46 per game the past three weeks.

"In the Notre Dame game, it was somewhat of a change," Lewan said. "We saw we can move the line of scrimmage. We found out we have the capability to do that. It really came together at Purdue, but we have to be a better team this week than we were last week. Every week from now on is championship week because our goal is the Big Ten championship."

Lewan, who will make his 21st consecutive start Saturday against Illinois, welcomes a leadership role on the line. He shares the responsibility with fifth-year senior guard Patrick Omameh and fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer, a first-year starter at center.

"[Offensive coordinator Al] Borges put pressure on us, so did Coach Hoke, but at the end of the day, we need to put pressure on ourselves also," Lewan said. "Coach Hoke talks about it all the time. There's a standard you play at Michigan. I can throw cliché lines at you and every program says the same thing over and over, but the fact is we have the tradition to back it up. There's a tradition at Michigan, and there's a way you play."

Especially in the Big Ten season. There are still areas to improve -- Michigan needs to spark running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (169 rushing yards, 3.3 yards per carry) and its pass rush (five sacks in as many games, 104th nationally) -- but the team's identity is taking shape.

"You don't want to say the games leading up to the Big Ten don't count," Mattison said, "but when you come to Michigan, you come to win a championship. Now, it's on the line. Every game is on the line."
Denard RobinsonSandra Dukes/US PresswireImproved focus from the offensive line helped Denard Robinson rush for 235 yards against Purdue.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The week heading into the Wolverines' matchup with Purdue was one of the most memorable for offensive coordinator Al Borges.

"We had our three best practices maybe since I've been here, but certainly this season," Borges said. "So much of that tone was set by [the offensive linemen]."

It was the O-line position group that was called out during halftime of the Notre Dame game and told the final two quarters would rest on its shoulders. In that matchup the group missed more than 20 assignments and came into the following two weeks with a renewed focus. And because of that focus, they brought Borges and the rest of the offense the three best practices this season, which led a surprising rout of the Boilermakers.

"I love linemen because they're realists," Borges said. "They know you're only as good as your last performance and they're going to have to work hard."

(Read full post)

Van Bergen: End of rivalry hurts both 

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
4:47
PM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The reaction was simple, from Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon all the way down to former Wolverines players. When Notre Dame made the decision to pull out of the Michigan series for the foreseeable future, one thought kept popping up.

Disappointment.

“I’m kind of disappointed that’s the direction they went,” former Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. “I think it’s a great rivalry for the players to play in, the fans to get into it. We’re two of the most nationally well-known teams in the country and for that game not to be a part of college football is going to take away, I think, from both programs especially when it comes to strength of schedule out of conference [for Michigan].

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Key to '12 -- No. 6 Craig Roh 

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
12:00
PM ET
Craig RohTodd Kirkland/Icon SMICraig Roh will start at strongside defensive end, a position he believes suits him best.
Over the next two weeks, WolverineNation will break down the 10 players who need to play to the peak of their abilities for Michigan to have its best possible season, going from 10 all the way to No. 1.

For his entire career, Craig Roh has been a big, friendly guy who has always been on the field for Michigan but at the same time never truly at home with a position. He started as a freshman but was playing linebacker. Then he moved to defensive end on the weak side and found himself out of position.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Contact with players is minimal during the summer and since he can’t go on the road to recruit, Michigan football coach Brady Hoke is taking time to evaluate.

As the second-year coach begins to put together his plan for August’s preseason practice, he is looking at what worked and didn’t from last year’s 11-2 season that ended in a 23-20 win over Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“You start with a big template of what you did a year ago,” Hoke said before the Griese/Hutchinson/Woodson golf outing Sunday. “There’s always changes in the course of that year. You go back and you write everything down and you look at it and say did it help you win and did it help you develop your team or didn’t it. You’re always looking for new ideas.”

(Read full post)

Michigan spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
10:00
AM ET
Michigan

2011 overall record: 11-2

2011 conference record: 6-2 (2nd, Legends Division)

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Denard Robinson; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Roy Roundtree; WR Jeremy Gallon; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DE Craig Roh; LB Jake Ryan; LB Kenny Demens; LB Desmond Morgan; CB J.T. Floyd; CB Blake Countess; S Thomas Gordon; S Jordan Kovacs.

Key losses

WR Junior Hemingway; WR Darryl Stonum; WR/KR Martavious Odoms; TE Kevin Koger; C David Molk; RT Mark Huyge; DT Mike Martin; DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen; DT Will Heininger.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)

Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)

Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)

Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)

Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Spring answers

1. Quarterback accuracy: Denard Robinson played one series in the public spring scrimmage, but coaches raved about his improved leadership, decision-making and accuracy throughout the spring. The latter two were major issues for Michigan last season. While it is unknown whether Robinson will truly be more accurate until Sept. 1 against Alabama -- Michigan closed all of its practices to the media this spring -- offensive coordinator Al Borges was very confident in Robinson’s potential for his senior season.

2. Cornerback has depth:
Two seasons ago, cornerback was the biggest question on Michigan’s team because of youth, inexperience and a lack of talent. That is no longer an issue. The Wolverines have as many as six players they could feel comfortable with come the fall, and that doesn’t include incoming freshman Terry Richardson (Detroit/Cass Tech), the highest-ranked player in Michigan's incoming signing class. Sophomore Blake Countess could turn into a star, and fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd is the most consistent corner the Wolverines have. They’ll be the likely starters.

3. A featured back is set: Borges made no hesitation: Redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint is going into the fall as his top tailback -- a marked change from what the Wolverines endured last spring and through the first half of last season. Toussaint rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season, giving Michigan a dynamic dual running game with Robinson. With major questions at wide receiver and tight end, expect a lot of running from Toussaint and Robinson, especially early in the season.

Fall questions

1. Who is catching the ball: Michigan’s coaches spoke highly of Jeremy Gallon, Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree during the spring as their top three receivers, but Robinson has never caught a pass, Gallon has had one season of consistent productivity, and Roundtree saw his numbers plummet last season, where he had 19 catches for 355 yards. Tight end isn’t much better, as the position group has two career catches. Denard Robinson’s two best safety valves -- Junior Hemingway and Kevin Koger -- graduated so even if Denard Robinson is improved, he might need to hunt to find a reliable receiver option. Incoming freshman Devin Funchess (Farmington Hills, Mich./Harrison) could be an option at tight end.

2. Who is pressuring the quarterback: Michigan took its biggest hits on the defensive line, which saw three starters graduate -- Mike Martin was a third-round draft pick, Ryan Van Bergen signed a free agent contract and Will Heininger graduated -- and its fourth starter, Craig Roh, switch positions. Michigan insists it’ll be OK there. Will Campbell and converted end Jibreel Black will likely start inside, and either sophomore Brennen Beyer or sophomore Frank Clark will start at rush end. The success of Michigan’s defense last season relied on pressure the front four created. With an almost completely new group there, how they fare against opponents will be interesting to see.

3. Punting problems: Somewhere along the way last season, Will Hagerup lost his mojo, much like kicker Brendan Gibbons the year before. A strong-legged punter, Hagerup wasn’t connecting with the ball well and eventually lost his job to freshman Matt Wile. Now entering his junior year, Michigan hopes either Hagerup regains his form or Wile becomes more consistent. The Wolverines’ offense should be fairly prolific, but with a defense searching for pressure early on, it needs to be able to control field position with the punter.

Roh growing in many ways

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
5:06
PM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan's Craig Roh has been ingesting about 5,000 calories per day this spring, trying to bulk up by about 10 pounds to play strongside defensive end. He's eating six meals per day and says there are days when he feels like throwing up all the time.

Yet, this offseason has been a lot easier to stomach for Roh than last year, when another transition didn't get off to the smoothest of starts. During last spring and summer, Roh was steadily getting criticized by new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison as he moved from linebacker to weakside defensive end.

[+] EnlargeCraig Roh
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCraig Roh is bulking up to switch positions on Michigan's defensive line.
"I'd have those moments like, 'Does he even think I'm worth anything?'" Roh told ESPN.com. "He broke me down to my core and built me back up. It was one of the hardest things I've been through in my life, but also one of the most rewarding."

After a slow start last year, Roh improved to finish with 32 tackles, including eight for loss, on one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten. Now, he's the only starter back on the line, moving over to the spot where Ryan Van Bergen starred last season.

The Wolverines are counting on him to be a playmaker and a leader, two things he accomplished in spring practice.

"I think the move of Craig Roh was a very, very good move," Mattison said. "He had one of the best springs of any of our guys. I think the thing that would bother him was open spaces. We felt that moving him inside gives him a chance to show his ability."

Roh will be right in the middle of the action on the strong side, and often will have to face more than one blocker. Hence the need to build up from last season's listed playing weight of 269 pounds.

"It's great because the ball comes to you, and you don't have to run far to get to it," he said. "You just have to be strong and throw off blocks, be explosive. That's what I am. It's an exciting transition, and I've been able to make a lot of plays in spring practice. It's been fun."

Fun hasn't always described Roh's other moves. In Rich Rodriguez's 3-3-5 scheme, he played outside linebacker and, like much of the defense during that era, struggled mightily at times.

"At linebacker, I did not know what was going on at all," he said. "I know what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. I'm not good at linebacker. I know I am good at reading and reacting on the defensive line."

It took a couple of games last season before Roh started feeling comfortable in Mattison's system. He told the media last fall that he broke down in tears in front of his family after the opener against Western Michigan. He had to get used to the high standards Michigan has for its defensive line. After all, Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke are defensive line coaches at heart, and Jerry Montgomery is a demanding position coach.

"The pressure is immense," Roh said. "You have three different people critiquing what you're doing. They're not always going to give you compliments. Most of the time, they're not going to give you compliments."

But they have been complimentary of Roh's play so far this offseason, with Hoke telling ESPN.com that Roh "can be a big plus for us this year." A bigger plus, if he keeps up his high-calorie diet.
The three-day NFL Draft came and went over the weekend with few surprises for Michigan players. Three players -- Mike Martin, David Molk and Junior Hemingway -- were drafted.

Many more were not.

The three players drafted equaled the 2010 NFL Draft, which had Brandon Graham go in the first round, Zoltan Mesko in the fifth round and Stevie Brown in the seventh.

In this year’s draft, Martin went to Tennessee in the third round, while Molk and Hemingway were selected in the seventh round by San Diego and Kansas City, respectively.

Hemingway, the last Michigan player taken, joins Steve Breaston as a wide receiver in Kansas City.

(Read full post)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Troy Woolfolk will likely be in New York City on Saturday, but he won’t be anywhere near the NFL Draft. Actually, the former Michigan defensive back is going to New York to escape the pressure of this weekend.

Unlike former teammates who will likely be drafted this weekend, Mike Martin and David Molk, Woolfolk has no idea whether or not he’ll be selected. That uncertainty has left him like many of the Michigan seniors who will graduate from the university this weekend -- wondering about their future.

The difference is the process for Woolfolk, Ryan Van Bergen and others plays out publicly.

(Read full post)

Michigan roundtable 

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:12
AM ET
Joe BoldenMiller Safrit/ESPN.comFreshman LB Joe Bolden, an early enrollee, is a player to keep an eye on in the spring game.
The Michigan spring scrimmage is Saturday, Trey Burke is back for another season in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines picked up commitment No. 17 on Tuesday night.

Just another week around the Michigan program.

However, there are many topics to discuss as the final week before the two big Michigan sports -- football and men's basketball -- officially hit their offseasons.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 12 Prospect Countdown - No. 9 

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
12:07
PM ET
There are roughly eight spots left in Michigan's 2013 class, and there are still a few needs to fill. Some of the top prospects in the nation are still considering Michigan, and it would be tough to turn away those kinds of recruits. So WolverineNation will rank the top 12 uncommitted prospects for Michigan based on need and want leading up to the spring game.

No. 9
[+] EnlargeBen Gedeon
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comWN readers believe Ben Gedeon is a prototype Big Ten linebacker.
Tom's pick: LB Ben Gedeon (Hudson, Ohio/Hudson)

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Last season at this time, everything was new for Michigan. New coach. New systems. New leaders. New life.

But now, things are a little different. Michigan won the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season. It had an 11-win season. That new coach, Brady Hoke, is now in his second season and his offensive and defensive systems are in place.

One thing will still be new, however: His team’s leadership.

(Read full post)

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is happy to see some familiar faces this spring.

The Wolverines return seven starters and many other reserves who played roles in orchestrating one of the more impressive one-year turnarounds for a defense in recent college football history. Mattison remains grateful for their contributions.

[+] EnlargeJordan Kovacs
AP Photo/Tony DingSafety Jordan Kovacs is expected to be the leader of the Wolverines' defense next season.
He also guarantees them nothing for the coming season.

"Nobody has a right to any position," Mattison told ESPN.com on Monday. "It doesn't matter if you've started for three years, four years, one year. Every practice and every week is judged. We are always going to put the best football players on the field."

While this is a common refrain for coaches, who want to maintain as much competition as possible, Mattison finds himself doing more than paying lip service in spring ball, which kicked off Saturday. The scheme is no longer new. Neither are the expectations.

The learning curve for players hasn't so much been accelerated as it has been evened out. Other than three true freshmen who enrolled early and are practicing this spring -- linebackers Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer and safety Jarrod Wilson -- Michigan's defenders all have gone through a full year in the system.

"If a guy was a veteran, he would have picked up the new scheme at a certain rate," Mattison said. "If he was a younger guy, it would have taken him longer to pick up the scheme. Now, they've both had it, and there shouldn't be that learning factor that sometimes separates younger guys from older guys.

"Now it's who's playing the best and understanding the defense."

Mattison didn't shy away from using young players in 2011. Michigan started three freshmen -- linebackers Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan, and cornerback Blake Countess -- for much of the season. Although all three earned invaluable experience playing for a successful defense, they're not assured of anything in 2012.

Consider what Mattison had to say about the linebackers, a group that returns all three starters (Morgan, Ryan, senior Kenny Demens).

"Those positions are not solidified in any way," said Mattison, who stressed the need for the linebackers to improve in zone coverage. "Every day, those are evaluated."

The same standard is applied for veterans like safety Jordan Kovacs, who many expect to become the undisputed leader of the defense.

"I was really proud of what he did a year ago," Mattison said, "but it's the same thing, and he knows it, and it's why he's such a great young man. ... He knows he has to improve. He knows that if he just goes out there and plays like he did last year, that may not be good enough."

Kovacs will provide leadership, but Michigan needs more after losing standout linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Team 132 raised the bar on defense after it has sunk to historic lows.

But simply maintaining the level won't be good enough.

"That season, Team 132, is over," Mattison said. "Some of them had a big part in that, but they're 133. What are they going to be? Just because you played on that team does not mean you automatically will play on this team."

The reproving process is under way in Ann Arbor.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin over, pulled his defensive line coach in, too, and told them to all work out.

The Steelers coach wanted to see the two former Michigan defensive linemen go through their position drills at the Wolverines’ Pro Day on Thursday at Schembechler Hall.

Van Bergen got the feeling he did well.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Kirk Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown
Kirk Herbstreit looks at the five big rivalry games of the week that not only give state bragging rights but also have direct implications on the College Football Playoff.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29