Michigan coach Brady Hoke caught fans' attention last week, when he announced that fifth-year senior Jake Ryan was making the transition from strongside outside linebacker to middle linebacker during the Wolverines' spring practice sessions.
In three years at SAM, Ryan built a reputation as a fierce and athletic playmaker. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, he finished with 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. The following season, Ryan led the Wolverines in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (4.5).
Ryan unfortunately suffered an ACL tear during spring practice last season, which forced him to miss the first half of the 2013 season. When he returned, he managed to rack up 30 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Now, while they have him for one more season, the Michigan coaches want to see if Ryan's athletic ability can help from the middle.
"At SAM, I was on one side of the ball, and a lot of the time, the ball would run away from me," Ryan said. "I would have to run about 100 yards to go and catch it. At middle linebacker, I am more in the middle of everything. As Coach Hoke said, I can be more prolific there. I am in the middle of everything. Hopefully, I can make more plays and get to the ball faster."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who is now responsible for linebackers coaching since Mark Smith is now coaching the defensive line, first talked to Ryan about the possibility of playing middle linebacker just a few weeks ago.
Since then, Ryan has been cramming to get himself familiar with the position, in time to start spring practice this week.
"The pass coverage is different," Ryan said. "And I didn't have to fit a gap. I would always just coming in off the edge when I was at SAM linebacker. It is different, but I am getting the feel of it.
"I would read the tight end at SAM, and now I am reading the back. It's not that big of a difference. It's just a different key. Coach Mattison is going over everything, and he's helping me out a lot. For the first day of practice, I think it went well."
Ryan said he played a little middle linebacker at St. Ignatius High School in Westlake, Ohio, so the position is not completely new to him.
"I have the pass coverage down quite a bit, but there is definitely room to improve," he said. "Fitting my gap is probably going to be one of the challenging parts of spring ball, but I think it will be good."
For the time being, Ryan is playing in the middle, which pushes senior Desmond Morgan out from middle linebacker to weakside outside linebacker.
For Morgan, it is a big transition. The MIKE and WILL spots are very similar, responsibility-wise, and Morgan played them interchangeably in 2013.
But the linebacker switch-up also flips junior James Ross III from WILL to SAM, which will take some time to adjust to.
"James has been doing well with it," Ryan said. " It looked like he had a good practice today. He had some questions for me, and I answered those. I have played there before, and I am even asking him some questions, because there are a lot of similarities between the MIKE and WILL. I think he did well for the first practice, but we all have to look at the film and improve."