- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 1, 2013
Before Brennen Beyer was the strong-side linebacker for the Michigan football team, he was its weak-side end. Before he was a weak-side end, he was a wide receiver at Plymouth (Mich.) High School.
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Before that, during his junior year there, he played tight end. As a sophomore, he played offensive tackle. Through it all, on the other side of the ball, he played defensive end.
Then and now, Beyer is a Swiss Army Knife of a player. At Michigan, he played for two years at end before redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan tore his anterior cruciate ligament this spring. The team needed Beyer at linebacker, so Beyer played linebacker. Now, the list of position groups he hasn’t played for is shorter than the one he has.
“I’m not unused to switching positions,” Beyer said after practice Tuesday. He added with a laugh: “Could never throw.”
But aside from that, there are few positions left for Beyer to try. That may be a blessing for Michigan in the upcoming weeks, because along with being one of the defense’s most versatile players, Beyer has also been one of its most productive.
Playing in a front seven that has struggled to rush the passer, Beyer has been a constant presence in the backfield. Though he splits time with fifth-year senior Cam Gordon, Beyer leads the team in tackles for loss with four. He is tied (with Gordon) for the team lead in sacks with two. He is one off the team lead in quarterback hurries and is one of just two players on the roster with a forced fumble.
When Michigan needed a stop in the final seconds to escape an Akron upset, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison called Cable Zero Train — an all-out blitz. Someone needed to get to the quarterback. Beyer broke through.
The next week, Mattison said that Beyer executed the play perfectly.
“He just does what he’s coached to do every time,” Mattison said.
This Monday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that “Brennen Beyer probably is as important piece to our football team as anybody because he can do so many different things for you.”
Yet Beyer’s emergence at the SAM position presents the Wolverines with a surprisingly difficult decision. Hoke has said for months that he expects Ryan to return some time in October. Ryan, Michigan’s most explosive and reliable defender last season, will likely resume his role as the starter.
Hoke said that he plans to get Ryan more involved in this week of practice. He has done individual work without contact for weeks, but “he does some team stuff more and more every day,” Hoke said.
So where does that leave Beyer?
Even after switching positions this season, Beyer has played on the line at times. Two weeks ago, Mattison said he hadn’t yet thought about switching him back to the line. (Both coordinators were not available to speak to the media this week due to a team meeting.)
“I don’t know,” Mattison said. “We haven’t even looked at that yet. No. Brennen Beyer has done a great job at the SAM linebacker position, and he would always do it, just like Jake did, put his hand in the dirt in pass rush situations. We’ll put the best pass rushers out there on the field when that time comes.”
Beyer, for his part, said he’d go wherever the coaching staff asks him to go. His experience gives the staff plenty of options. As does his size. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Beyer fits the size profile of a number of positions.
But a move back to the line might be the most likely option. He could back up Ryan at the SAM while Ryan regains his conditioning. But that would leave out Gordon, a team captain and himself a productive defender. He could shift within the linebacking corps, but he’d still see little action, even if his skills prove compatible.
The line, too, is jammed with a deep rotation of players, but the pass rush has disappointed this year. Beyer, more than anyone, has been successful getting to the quarterback. That could be enticing for Mattison.
And it could mean yet another position change for Beyer. At this point, though, Beyer has no issues switching.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know it was a position change,” said redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess. “I’m joking, but he just seems like a natural at the position.”