Michigan Football: 4 Wolverines Who Are Changing Positions This Spring
After last season’s tailspin, it’s understandable that Michigan coach Brady Hoke would be eager to get back on the field and start working to prevent a repeat.
Hoke had Michigan begin spring practice earlier than in past seasons, starting prior to spring break. He hopes that the down time will give new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new offense a chance to sink in, and his team will return refreshed and ready to work.
“We have so much new stuff,” said Hoke in a press conference, as noted on mgoblue.com. “New offense, when you look at terminology and all those things that are important. We thought these first two days—non-padded—we could get a lot taught, a lot of the base things that are in the offense…When they come back hopefully they’ll be in a groove with what they’ve done so far.”
The week that the team takes away from the practice field will also allow the coaching staff to evaluate the position changes previously announced by Hoke. After the team’s 7-6 record last season, he has little margin for error this season. With numerous questions on offense and the shuffling of his defensive staff, every move is critical if Michigan hopes to compete for the Big Ten title this season.
Linebacker Jake Ryan
Jake Ryan was injured prior to last season but recovered from an ACL injury in time to play down the stretch of the Big Ten schedule.
Ryan returned strong, but opponents limited his impact at outside linebacker by running plays away from his side or as Michigan’s defensive line wore down by running up the middle. Hoke hopes to feature Ryan’s playmaking skills by moving him to middle linebacker.
This move, coupled with Greg Mattison taking over responsibility for linebackers to amp up the aggression of the offense, should mean that Ryan will have ample opportunity to shine this season.
Mattison elaborated on the reasons for the move, per mgoblue.com.
“The problem with our defense, and with the way offenses are going now, at his position, he was always out in the flanks,” said Mattison. “He was spread out, so if they’re not running at him, you’re best player’s not involved in the game as much as he should be.”
Linebacker James Ross
Ryan and Ross have swapped positions on defense—Ryan moving to middle linebacker and Ross moving outside. Last season he tallied 81 tackles, and the move outside should allow him to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Ryan and Ross swapping positions is an indication that the coaches believe they will thrive in their new roles.
Mattison has high expectations for his Ryan and Ross: “…Forever at Michigan linebackers have lead the defense,” said Mattison on mgoblue.com. “This group has played a lot of football. And now It’s time for this group of linebackers to lead this team.”
Running Back Ross Douglas
With the graduation of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the departure of running back Thomas Rawls, Michigan is looking for depth at running back. Douglas was moved from cornerback and will now compete with Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith for playing time.
Last season Hoke indicated to the media that Justice Hayes would probably be moving to slot receiver, and the lack of depth at receiver indicates that those plans likely haven’t changed, leading to the position switch for Douglas.
According to Hoke, “He (Douglas) was a 2,000-yard rusher in high school, so he showed us some things during the fall and we thought we’d do that.”
Douglas is expected to be an insurance policy if either Green or Smith goes down with an injury.
Tight End Keith Heitzman
The injury of Jake Butt and a lack of depth at receiver has forced Keith Heitzman to switch units, moving from defensive end to tight end. Michigan would like to keep opponents guessing where Devin Funchess will be lining up, but that plan could be in jeopardy if the team doesn’t identify a steady performer to replace Butt.
Per Scout.com, Hoke praised his willingness to switch positions for the team: “He was all for it…He’s a pretty physical tough guy so it’s good to have him there.”