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Posted on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Infusion of 4 'see ball, hit ball'-type linebackers makes position Michigan football team's deepest

By Kyle Meinke

Turning down free food is bad business. The same goes for linebackers.

You can never have too much of either.

Mark Smith, who coaches the position for the Michigan football team, returns each of his starters next season, and he didn't need four more. But, he wasn't about to say no when Royce Jenkins-Stone, James Ross, Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer agreed to join the Wolverines' 2012 class.

That is shaping up to be a source of strength for the program's future.

"It creates that depth and that competition that we’re looking for," Smith said Wednesday. "Everybody’s a better player when they feel like they’re being pushed. If you feel like no one’s behind (you), you get comfortable."


Michigan linebackers coach Mark Smith: "Everybody’s a better player when they feel like they’re being pushed."

Melanie Maxwell |

Michigan's linebacker class

    Joe Bolden
    Size: 6-2, 225
    High school: Colerain
    City: Cincinnati
    Stars: Three
    Ranking: No. 4/7 OLB

    Royce Jenkins-Stone
    Size: 6-2, 215
    High school: Cass Tech
    City: Detroit
    Stars: Four
    Ranking: No. 2/9 MLB

    Kaleb Ringer
    Size: 6-0, 219
    High school: Northmont
    City: Clayton, Ohio
    Stars: Four
    Ranking: No. 17/35 MLB

    James Ross
    Size: 6-0, 209
    High school: St. Mary's
    City: Orchard Lake
    Stars: Four
    Ranking: No. 14/7 OLB

    NOTE: All rankings are Rivals/Scout

Starters Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan return next year. Demens became a star in the middle last season, where he led the Wolverines in tackles and called most of the defense's plays. Ryan (redshirt freshman) and Morgan (true freshman) flourished alongside him.

Each primary backup also will be back, and redshirt freshman Antonio Poole will be added to the mix, so it's likely redshirts will be awarded to multiple incoming freshmen. Smith said those decisions have not yet been made.

If Michigan can redshirt a player such as Jenkins-Stone, or Ross, that is a terrific luxury that shows how far the Wolverines have come defensively. Either would have played in previous years because of need.

Now, Michigan can take its time developing the younger guys without rushing them onto the field as stop-gaps.

Of course, if they're good enough to play? Well, then they'll play.

"One thing we sell these kids on is there is no entitlement, there is no ownership (of starting spots)," Smith said. "Just because you've been here the longest, or you’ve played here the most, doesn’t’ mean you’re playing next Saturday. You’ve got to earn that spot again."

Bolden and Ross are four-star prospects who are ranked in the top-15 nationally as outside linebackers.

Bolden, as well as Ringer, will be ahead in their development as early enrollees. The Ohio natives already are on campus and working with strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman.

Smith said Ringer and Bolden played high school ball in a system similar to Michigan's 4-3, which should help them assimilate. The hardest part of the transition will be picking up the language of the defense, he added.

Smith said a position hasn't been determined for Ringer and Bolden, but did say they would be at middle or weak-side linebacker.

Jenkins-Stone, a fearless hitter from Detroit, also could play either of those spots. He is ranked as the country's No. 2 middle linebacker according to Scout and No. 9 according to Rivals.

"He will run and hit, and that's kind of what you kind of want linebackers to do," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.

Ross, also from Detroit, could play in the middle, but he might be best served on the weak-side because of his size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds).

"He's a guy who is, 'See ball, hit ball,'" Hoke said. "He has very good football sense and instinct, when you look at a linebacker."

Together, the four are ranked by Rivals as the country's fourth-best linebacker class, trailing just Alabama, Texas and LSU. That makes it Michigan's strongest linebacker class since the ranking started in 2002.

Smith said what attracted him to the four was each showcased the kind of instinctual play that allowed Ryan to go from an unheralded 2010 recruit to one of the team's best players as a redshirt freshman in 2011.

Hoke calls Ryan an "unorthodox" player, but doesn't do much tweaking with him because he continues to make good football plays. Smith sees that in the four newcomers as well.

"You never want to take away a kid’s creativity," Smith said. "Obviously, they have to work within the framework of the defense — they can’t just run around and do their own thing. But, you also don’t want to make them robots.

"I tell 'em, 'Hey, if you feel something pre-snap, you make the decision. Just make sure you’re right more than you’re wrong, because if you make too many bad decisions, I'm going to say I don’t know you.'"

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Johnny Smith

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

We need to drop some of these recruits! This article is UNREAL Must Read: Twitter is ruining the reputation of star high school football players <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

Interesting quotes on &quot;red shirting&quot; and Jake Ryan. Instinct. Ryan shows how arbitrary those recruiting agency rating are.Lowly 3 star guy.

C. Lawler

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

Anyone heard if Jordan Diamond has committed yet? On Monday the Freep said he was committing today.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

What about Alex Kozan? I'm a little weary of him. Reports are that he is &quot;struggling&quot; with his decision. You've had a year to figure it out and you're still struggling? Really?


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

Not until 7 CST...8EST. That's when the presser starts, probably wont announce until 30 min. after. Don't get your hopes up though, as Auburn will bring big bucks to the table to get this kid. Plus, he's doing this &quot;wait until after signing day&quot; crap...which is almost always a bad character sign.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

I had to read this headline 5 times before I understood what it was saying. We used to use comma's and other punctuation in school

Matt Patercsak

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

antonio poole was a 4 star and will be a factor as well. These linebackers will be great. Bolden and Ross will be namesakes.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Thank you Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison on a great linebacker class coming in. Yes, Bo would be proud! Hoke and Mattison can say D E F E N S E.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

You can never have too many linebackers. They need to fill the gaps created by the line, they are all over the field, and will usually lead the team in tackles. Stockpile them and watch them. Good strategy. When you look at good defenses, they usually include deep talented linebackers, and the flip side is true too. (For example: MSU's defense==good, esp at linebacker; Northwestern back in Fitzgerald's time same thing; UM during the championship year had Irons and Sword).


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Well as far as red shirting goes, I say if they're good enough to play then forget red shirting them. I want to see us be a solid 2-3 deep at each position for many reasons: -Injuries could deplete depth -Guys will be fresher towards the ends of games by rotating more guys -It will put us in a position to be able to just reload as opposed to rebuild -With new recruiting classes coming in every year now with the way this staff can recruit, we'll be able to replenish So I say get the talent on the field so they can gain experience.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Our linebacker situation is FINALLY going to be a position of strength after years of being weak. For some reason, Michigan has not been able to recruit talented players at this position even back to Lloyd Carr's last 3-4 years. The attrition has been high and we've had to rely on players switched from other positions who had little experience playing LB in high school. Then RR recruited undersized guys for the most part - although we have to give him credit for Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. I'm looking forward to seeing good linebackers again at Michigan like the good old days.