December 28, 2012
Jake Ryan keeps on growing
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan heard these words from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy in his address to the team yesterday: "Don't be ordinary." No worries there.
Ryan has been anything but ordinary in his rise as one of the Big Ten's better defenders this year. The second-team All-Big Ten performer - whom linebackers coach Mark Smith insists should have been first team - racked up some significant numbers.
Heading into the Outback Bowl, he's posted 84 tackles for the Wolverines, including four sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss. He's forced three fumbles, and made his presence known throughout, getting tabbed as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in mid-October.
He's trying more and more to lead, insists the third-year performer now wearing No. 47, the legends jersey honoring former Michigan great Bennie Oosterbaan.
"Just lead," he said, when asked how he's trying to step up even more as a contributor. "Put the freshmen in the right position, tell them what they're doing wrong. And not even just the freshmen
your own class. Just step up and be a leader.
"[The freshmen] didn't really know what to expect in the practices coming here. I definitely talked to them and let them know how it's going to be. You've got to stay focused. We're not practicing in Michigan anymore. It's going to be different."
Playing South Carolina is definitely going to be different, Ryan knows. The Gamecocks feature a defense on par with the rugged ones meeting up in the national championship game, both of which Michigan faced this season.
Only Ryan isn't concerned about South Carolina's defense. He's not about to get caught up in a hype battle against a crew he's not even going to face.
He knows what his job entails.
"I'm focusing on their offense right now," Ryan said. "They've got two good quarterbacks, they've got a good running game. They're just a really good offense, so I'm focusing on the offense, and letting the offense handle their defense."
Ryan knows junior quarterback Connor Shaw and South Carolina's offense is enough to worry about. Shaw completed 67.3 percent of his pass attempts this season, throwing for 1,732 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
But Shaw also scrambled for 339 yards, demonstrating the ability to not only buy himself time in the passing game, but burst out and move the chains himself when necessary.
"The quarterback is good," Ryan said. "He's definitely both a running and passing quarterback. He scrambles a lot. He definitely knows what he's doing and leads the offense."
Ryan, increasingly, knows what he's doing. He related at Michigan's Football Bust that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison says Ryan takes weeks off his life with his unorthodox approach, but everyone around the redshirt sophomore notes how his technique is improving.
Plus, among all the linebackers, study and results have improved, Ryan insisted. He noticed it the most this year in pass defense.
"I would say the pass drops, knowing where to drop, knowing where the quarterback is throwing the ball, and knowing the tendencies before it's happening - knowing where the play is going to go before it's happening," Ryan explained.
"That's more study. More film work - getting in there, looking at the other team and knowing their tendencies."
Although he's been told he's an "instinct player" - allowing him to avoid looking ordinary in making plays - he's also honing the linebacker craft in terms of technique and preparation. That makes Mattison smile, and helps Michigan's defense.
One change not in the offing for Ryan - a haircut. Ryan's flowing blond locks have been the source of discussion among many, including some - like senior defensive end Craig Roh - who went from long hair to short in recent days.
Ryan respects Roh for his ironman act, including an impending Michigan record 51st start, but
"He's definitely a role model," Ryan said. "I wish I didn't cut his hair though."
Asked if that put pressure on him, Ryan playfully cut off the questioner, noting: "What, to keep it growing?"
Told no, to cut it off, Ryan responded in keeping with being his own person.
"Oh, no," he said with a grin. "It's going to keep growing."
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