A second bye week has come at the perfect time for the Michigan football team. Not only will the Wolverines have a chance to address their defensive issues before a critical five-game stretch, outside linebacker Jake Ryan should be able to regain some of the explosiveness he lost in the spring.
Ryan's recovery from a torn ACL, which he suffered on March 20, has been nothing short of incredible. In some cases, it can take up to a year to return. Despite the Ohioan's return to the field on Oct. 12, it was clear he had not returned to full strength.
Still, getting Ryan back in the lineup before the pivotal month Michigan has ahead of it has been a huge victory.
Former Wolverine Will Heininger believes it is only a matter of time before Ryan returns to vintage form. "Having gone through it, you're happy to get out there but to feel good, it takes a couple of games," Heininger, who tore his ACL in the spring of 2010, told Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com. "You get better as you go. But he's already made a difference, and he's going to make bigger (plays) as he gets more and more healthy."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's scheme will not change much, but it is going to be much better up front. The redshirt junior wreaks havoc near the line of scrimmage and is one of the best blitzing linebackers in the country. Opposing offensive lines have to know where Ryan is on the field at all times.
Given his style of play, it is no surprise he led the Wolverines in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (4) last year.
What tends to get lost in the box scores, though, is just how many opportunities Ryan is able to create for others. Like this famous hit by Frank Clark in last season's edition of "The Game:"
This is a simple numbers advantage out of a defensive formation Michigan utilizes quite often. Ryan lines up on the outside like a defensive end, while two other linebackers and a trio of linemen battle five Ohio State blockers. The line shifts toward Ryan's side, leaving Clark completely unblocked for an easy sack.
The 6'3", 240-pounder can make plenty of plays off the edge by himself too. Take a look at this play in last season's game against Michigan State:
The Wolverines are in their 4-3 defense with a safety on the far right acting as a linebacker. Ryan is lined up on the left half of the Michigan line.
Michigan State's line blocks to the left and expects Le'Veon Bell to pick up Ryan, who is coming on a blitz. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Bell is not quick enough to block him. Another easy sack.
Ryan's versatility is going to give opponents fits over the next five weeks. Not only does his quickness and ability to beat linemen force teams to adjust their blocking schemes, it creates opportunities for others. Michigan can line up as an end in a four-man front and command a double-team. This leaves another defender, such as Jibreel Black or Frank Clark, with a one-on-one matchup.
It is not exactly a coincidence Michigan racked up four sacks and seven tackles for loss, by far its best performance up front in the 2013 campaign, in Ryan's return.
In the five games prior, the Maize and Blue tallied just 10 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. The Wolverines also notched a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss in their recent victory over Indiana. However, with the number of quick passes the Hoosiers throw, it is difficult to rack up higher totals.
Even Michigan State's highly touted defense only managed two sacks and six tackles for loss versus Indiana.
Containing mobile quarterbacks has been an issue for this group as well. Tre Roberson (Indiana), Kyle Pohl (Akron) and Mitch Leidner (Minnesota) combined for 127 yards on 38 carries against the Michigan defense.
Ryan's speed on the edge will help turn running signal-callers back inside and prevent big plays. This will be important in upcoming contests with Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State.
Skip ahead to the 6:13 mark of this video to see what I'm talking about:
Braxton Miller keeps the ball on a read-option, but Ryan is waiting for him. Although the St. Ignatius alum does not make the tackle, he contains Miller long enough for his teammates to come up and help. Miller is forced out of bounds for a loss of one yard.
Wolverine fans should be sure to keep an eye out for No. 47 near the line of scrimmage. What they will likely see is an improved pass rush and the second team All-Big Ten linebacker making plays in the backfield.
Opponents will have their eyes all over Ryan, too.
Want to talk more Michigan football? Follow me on Twitter at @Zach_Dirlam.
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