The last thing that the Michigan Wolverines needed was for a player to suffer a devastating injury in spring practice. That the injured player is star linebacker Jake Ryan only makes matters worse.
Ryan led the Wolverines this past season with 88 tackles and was well on his way to becoming one of the top linebackers in college football prior to the unfortunate circumstances of March 19 that have him out "indefinitely." He could miss all of the 2013 season due to his torn ACL.
Recovering from such a strike is a marathon, not a sprint.
A 6'3", 241-pound run-stopping, pass-rushing machine, Ryan forced four fumbles in 2012 and kept pace with other linebackers who were perceived to be better athletes in several key statistical categories. Ryan's presence alone gave the Wolverines a certain demeanor on the field, an attitude that made the opposition think twice about running in his direction.
Is the loss of Ryan bigger than the loss of Countess in 2012?
Losing Ryan, the "quarterback" of the defense, is a crushing blow for a program that has a rapidly improving defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. The progress has been staggering, and it's a shame that Ryan may not be able to reap the benefits during the upcoming campaign.
Ryan started in 24 of 26 appearances with Michigan. Forget about his talent just for a moment; the loss of his experience will surely put a dent in the Wolverines' plans.
For now, it looks like soon-to-be junior Desmond Morgan and will-be sophomore Joe Bolden may have to pick up where Ryan left off prior to his injury. Morgan isn't green by any means; he's started 18 times. Bolden, though, has limited playing time on his resume, making just 12 appearances as a reserve linebacker.
Michigan followers may even get an early glimpse at true freshman Ben Gedeon, a 6'3", 220-pound, 4-star linebacker with enough athleticism to play inside or outside.
Cam Gordon, a will-be senior, is Ryan's backup at the moment, so it's logical to expect that he'll be the guy come fall. But at this point, filling the void left by Ryan seems like it's in limbo. The Wolverines also could stretch as far as putting defensive end Frank Clark in Ryan's position.
Uncertainty. A bit of confusion—neither is what the Wolverines needed after the incredible strides that their defense has made in the past two years. Injuries are a part of sports, but losing Ryan is much more than a typical injury— it's a punch to the gut of the defense.
The Wolverines have recruited well in the past two seasons, so finding a body to fill Ryan's spot isn't exactly a mind-boggling challenge—replacing the heart that Ryan brings to the field is the issue. That's not to say that those below him on the depth chart don't possess the same type of will and determination. But Ryan isn't an every-day type of linebacker; he's an exceptionally gifted, skillful and intelligent cog who helps Michigan, as a whole, forge ahead like a freight train.
Will Ryan recover in time to play in 2013?
Will the linebackers get on a merry-go-round this fall? Will Wolverines followers see experimentation on a weekly basis?
The answer on both fronts is maybe— and that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just not ideal. The Wolverines' defense will really see just how deep and talented it is without Ryan in the fold. Liken his absence to the loss of cornerback Blake Countess, who was knocked out for the year during Michigan's Week 1 loss to Alabama.
Michigan made do without its star defensive back, but the road would have been much smoother with Countess on the field. That scenario could very well play out for the linebackers, who will undoubtedly look toward Ryan for advice and inspiration, just as the defensive backs did in 2012 with Countess.
Hope isn't lost for a spectacular season for the Wolverines' defense, not by a long shot. Ryan's injury puts a wrinkle in the overall plan, but it could be a blessing in disguise for an up-and-coming group of linebackers.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81