The loss of Jake Ryan will be tough for Michigan's football program to overcome, but Cam Gordon is a player who could make a big impact on this tall task.
Gordon isn't the only Michigan defender who must step up in Ryan's absence, either. The entire defense will need to raise its level of play in order to compensate for the loss of last year's leading tackler.
ESPN's Brett McMurphy first reported Ryan's ACL injury:
Brett McMurphy @McMurphyESPN
Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Wolverines' leading tackler last year, out indefinitely w/torn ACL, suffered Tuesday3/20/2013, 4:40:01 PM
Ryan racked up 88 tackles (16 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2012, and his leadership will be difficult to replace. That said, the Wolverines have no choice but to find a way to move on without him in 2013.
These are the key players who must step up in his absence.
Cam Gordon, Linebacker
Gordon is now the man for Michigan, now that Ryan is out.
The former defensive back turned linebacker is still learning the position, but he'll be thrust into action as the team's starting inside linebacker in 2013.
According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press:
[Greg] Mattison also said he may have taken Gordon out of games too quickly last year. On film, he played "pretty good," Mattison said. He said Gordon is gaining confidence at the position.
He'll need to gain confidence in leaps and bounds before the 2013 season begins. Ryan was a true leader and a force on defense for Michigan last year, and Gordon has some big shoes to fill.
Brennen Beyer, Linebacker
When one man goes down, another must step up.
Beyer was a defensive end for the Wolverines last season, but he didn't see much action.
According to Snyder, Mattison has made the decision to move Beyer from his end position to become a linebacker:
"We moved Brennen Beyer back from the rush (end). He had played Sam linebacker, and he has done some very good things (in practice), for only being back a couple days," Mattison said. "We'll always make sure we have guys where we have to have them."
Given Beyer's lack of production as a defensive end, it will be interesting to see how effective he will be playing behind the line this year. If Gordon gets injured, God forbid, Beyer is the only other player slated to play the position at this time.
Thomas Gordon, Safety
Not only did Michigan lose Ryan for an undetermined amount of time this season, but the team will be without another of last year's leaders: safety Jordan Kovacs.
Last season's third-leading tackler, Gordon will now need to take ownership of leading the Wolverines defense in 2013—both in words and in action.
According to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, it's a role Gordon is taking to heart:
"I got to come in with my head right to get this team going no matter the circumstances," Gordon said. "Whether it's an early practice, or a physical practice, it's my job to make sure everybody has their head right stepping on this field. "I feel like the guys tend to come to me for a lot of advice, and I'm just being natural (about leading)."
Gordon will need to be a do-it-all player for Michigan this upcoming season. It's now up to him to solidify the secondary and give confidence in the huddle to the entire defense.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78