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How Michigan recruits linebackers in the Jim Harbaugh era

The Jim Harbaugh linebacker recruiting philosophy includes Charles Thomas
Photo: 247Sports

More speed, more athleticism, more everything — that has pretty much defined Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting philosophy during the past three cycles at Michigan.

With the commitment of linebacker Charles Thomas — from Georgia but out of IMG in Florida — that same tone has been solidified for his fourth full cycle (2019) with the Wolverines. Specifically at the linebacker position, where the Wolverines continue to stockpile some of their better athletes.

At 6-foot 222 pounds, Thomas, who’ll be a high school junior this fall, already fits the status-quo in Ann Arbor. According to his Hudl profile, he runs a 4.63-second 40-yard dash — respectable, but certainly with room to improve — and a 4.35-second shuttle, in addition to squatting 450 pounds and benching 275.

According to Thomas, via Twitter DM, he now squats 500 and benches 325. Hudl cited freshman numbers, he added.

A bruiser in the middle, or a potential hard-hitter on the outside come time for college. He’s of the proper ilk, the type Michigan likes to recruit.

With that said, it’ll be at least two years before he even sees the field. But Thomas, already the No. 6-ranked ILB of 2019, only proves the point: Michigan is recruiting the hell out of linebackers, and the position could — despite some turnover and lack of major experience — be a top strength this fall for Harbaugh’s team.

If not this year, certainly in 2018 and 2019 — the junior and senior seasons of this year’s core of underclassmen linebackers.

Entering their sophomore years, Devin Bush, Josh Uche, Devin Gil (DB/LB) and Josh Metellus are expected to lend plenty of support to fifth-year veteran Mike McCray, who has quietly become one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. The trio of 2016 signees represents the new look at linebacker.

In essence, they’re each athletic enough to man the VIPER spot, the most demanding linebacker position; however, that’ll be the job of Metellus and fellow 2016 signee and safety/LB Khaleke Hudson. But having more than one, not just a back-up or A1/A2 says something about the pure ability of the Wolverines’ linebackers.

2016 (Harbaugh’s first full class)

The 2016 class, by virtue of getting older (of course), will learn from McCray while paving the way for the next guys. That’s just the nature of the cycle, right? Nothing too complicated there. At this time next year, the same will be said about juniors-to-be Metellus and Bush teaching the new guys.

Bush has shown a nose for the ball, evidenced by 12 stops in 2016, and Metellus already has wowed with an impressive 97-yard return of a missed 2-point conversion during a 33-32 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. The big-play tendencies are there.

He finished with 15 tackles, too.

Not bad debuts, and a definite glimpse at the future.

And while not recruited by Harbaugh, Jabrill Peppers — a 2014 commit — certainly set the bar in terms of the “new” Michigan linebacker. A “sonic boom,” cruise-missile type of defender, and Heisman finalist/Big Ten DPOTY, who finished with 16 tackles for loss.

Michigan DC Don Brown has been pleased with the progress of recent linebacker recruits. Photo: Andy Shippy | FanRag Sports

They won’t always find a Peppers, but the Wolverines will continue to go after linebackers who excel in space and near the line of scrimmage. Fast football calls for such players.

While Metellus isn’t looking to be another Peppers, he could certainly provide some of the same defensive benefits in 2017. Bush has pop; he’s one of the hardest-hitting Wolverines.

Josh Uche, an excellent pass-rusher, made a nice debut and should continue to produce for Brown in 2017.

“I think we’re developing depth,” UM defensive coordinator Don Brown said, via Isaiah Hole of 247Sports. “Devin Gil, [2016 commit Elysee Mbem-Bosse] — I see those guys starting to develop some depth. We’ve got [grad transfer Mike Wroblewski] Wrobo, I’ve got Devin [Bush], I’ve got Mike [McCray].

“We’ve got the three pups coming in here. I’m anxious to get my hands on those three guys. Jordan Anthony will be interesting. Josh Ross will be interesting. Drew [Singleton] — you know.”

2017

This year’s incoming group of linebackers won’t have former 4-star Ben Mason; he’s still around, just as a fullback, waiting for his turn after fifth-year seniors Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi.

However, there’s still former 4-stars Singleton and Jordan Anthony, a pair of top-10 outside linebackers from powerhouses Paramus Catholic (N.J.) and IMG Academy (Fla.). Ranking, school pedigree and all the necessary physical traits: 6-something, about 220, fast and instinctive.

You know the type. Look at who Michigan has recruited during the past few years.

Paramus guys have performed, regardless of position: Rashan Gary, a Bednarik-worthy defensive end, and Peppers both attended Paramus, which was then coached by Wolverines linebacker coach Chris Partridge — an expert defensive recruiter who is ranked among the best in the nation by every recruiting site known to man.

IMG is known for pumping out college-ready guys. Take a look at 2017 freshman Cesar Ruiz, who enrolled early. He could figure into the starting rotation, likely at center, this fall.

Singleton and Anthony could get their feet wet on special teams — at least one of them, anyway.

Josh Ross, another 6-foot-1, 220-pound-ish specimen, enters with a reputation: He’s the younger brother of James Ross III, a former Wolverines standout rover/linebacker. He might not be James this year, but he’s a Ross — so he’ll likely mature into a workhorse. He also comes from a sturdy high school program, St. Mary’s Orchard Lake (Mich.).

2018

As of July 10, Otis Reese was the only linebacker committed to Michigan’s 2018 class. At 6-foot-4 and 206 pounds, he’s an obvious candidate to play outside — maybe even switch to being a corner, should he put on a lot of weight (up to 240 or more). The No. 148-ranked player in his class, Reese — a Georgia kid, and UM loves Georgia — comes in tabbed as the No. 6-ranked OLB of 2019.

Michigan also remains in pursuit of Shayne Simon of St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) and Cameron McGrone of Lawrence Central (Indianapolis). Of course, the 4-star pair ranks among the top OLB of 2019 and come from solid prep foundations, hence the interest from Michigan.

2019

Not only the lone commit, but one of the top priorities at linebacker, Thomas anchors — by virtue of being the first — Harbaugh’s 2019 class. Two weeks ago, he committed during a visit to Michigan, which hosted a youth camp and Big Man Camp the same day.

With that said, the Wolverines remain in contention for King Mwikuta and Nakobe Dean, a pair of 4-stars with “cool” interest in UM, per 247Sports. But there’s still time. Plenty of time.

Quick note before we say goodbye: The aforementioned players were listed as linebackers in high school or became linebackers at Michigan. Harbaugh’s staff has converted players, and will continue to do so — so don’t be surprised to see safeties and those designated as “athletes” get a crack in the middle, sometime down the road, with Partridge and defensive coordinator Don Brown.

Follow Adam Biggers of FanRag Sports on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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