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Notebook: Hoke likes the way Ryan and Morgan play linebacker

Terra Mollengraff/Daily
Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan is second on the team with five tackles for loss. Buy this photo

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 31, 2011

You get the feeling talking to Michigan football coach Brady Hoke that Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan are two of his favorite players.

Ryan, the longhaired 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman, plays like a ball of energy and like a tough kid who doesn’t know any better.

And after Hoke said his linebackers were too hesitant against Michigan State, he inserted the true freshman Morgan in the starting lineup.

“I think what I like best about them is that they’re football players,” Hoke said. “I mean, they understand and — my boy Jake can be — what’s the right word?

“He makes plays unorthodox sometimes.”

How so, coach?

“I’ve got an example, when he knifed through and (got a) tackle for a loss,” Hoke continued. “That’s a guy being a football player. That’s a guy saying I’m not going to (go to) the edge because I’m going to get knocked out. But if I take the guys knees and go up through, I’ve got a chance.

“He just makes plays.”

Instead of playing his assignment by the book, Ryan made the play. That’s why he’s second on the team with five tackles for loss.

“He just seems to find the football all the time,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen. “If you're going to make a mistake, make it going 1,000 miles per hour. That's what Jake does and that's why you see so many plays with him disrupting something. He might not be in the right spot, but he's going fast so it looks good.”

Against Purdue, Hoke said Michigan’s linebackers played more downhill, running to the ball — moving vertically, not horizontally. Their reaction time and play recognition were too slow when the Spartans ran all over the Wolverines. Simply put, this time they made an “impact.”

In his second-career start, Morgan made a team-high nine tackles, and afterwards, Hoke praised his physicality and instincts as a linebacker.

“I think he’s going to play a lot of football here at Michigan,” Hoke declared.

Morgan would've played more earlier in the season had he not tweaked his hamstring in the last week of training camp. His production has grown as he has grown more comfortable. He has 18 tackles in the past three games.

“Desmond does a great job of self-critiquing and self-criticizing and making sure he doesn't (continue to make mistakes),” Van Bergen said. “He really understands, for a freshman, (he) has a maturity to know how Michigan defense is supposed to be played. He has the best effort — as good an effort as anybody else on the field.”

With two freshmen starting at linebacker — the position Hoke played himself — it took two special players to usurp the gang of veterans who are still vying for playing time at the position. Hoke said he’d never had to rely on so many starting freshmen — Ryan, Morgan and true freshman cornerback Blake Countess — on a team that could still win a conference championship.

“The best players have to play,” Hoke said. “If we don’t play the best players, not matter who they are, where they’re from, what age they are, then we’re cheating the program. And we’re not going to cheat the program.”

HAGGLING OVER HAGERUP: When sophomore punter Will Hagerup returned from his four-game suspension against Minnesota, there wasn’t much discussion about whether he’d lost his job.

Hagerup was coming off a fantastic freshman season — he averaged 44 yards per punt and had 11 punts inside the 20-yard line. He lessened the pain of losing all-time great Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko to graduation.

But four games after his 2011 season debut, Hagerup has underwhelmed and now may have to fight off freshman Matt Wile, who handled the punting duties while Hagerup sat out.

Though he’s punted the ball just 12 times in four games, Hagerup has averaged just 35 yards per punt, compared to the freshman Wile’s 41-yard average.

“I think he had the one — the first punt was a good punt,” Hoke said of Haegrup’s first 49-yard punt. “The second punt (which went 32 yards), the inconsistency there. … We’ve got good competition because Matt (Wile) there is competing at both (punter and kicker). So we’ll compete there like we do any other position.”

Could the time off have left Hagerup rusty?

“No,” Hoke said flatly. “He’s punted. He might be pressing a little bit, which I think he does.”

In fairness to Hagerup, Hoke praised him for placing four punts inside the 20-yard line after a windy game in East Lansing.

PINK’S OUT: Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium is famous for its pink visitors’ locker room — the walls, the floors — even the toilet — are pink.

When Van Bergen was asked about it, his answer dripped with sarcasm.

“I love the pink locker room,” Van Bergen said. “I've never had an issue with the pink locker room. I think it gives it a nice decor. The Feng Shui feels real good before a game.

“As you get in there and you see the pink, it warms you up. It's very welcoming. I think more teams should go with pink. I have no problem with it. I think it's a great touch and better than the oft-white jail cell look. So, I say paint them up.”

“You really know what feng shui is?” one reporter asked.

“It's a word,” Van Bergen said, cracking a smile.

KOVACS, BARNUM AND LEWAN UPDATES: Redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs (knee) and redshirt junior left guard Ricky Barnum (ankle) are day-to-day, Hoke said.

Barnum has missed three games already this season with an ankle injury, and he hurt his other ankle midway through last Saturday’s game aganst Purdue.

Hoke wasn’t concerned about redshirt sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan.

“Taylor’s fine,” Hoke said. “An ankle a little bit. Knee a little bit. But he’s fine. He did everything (Sunday), too.”

Kovacs missed the first game in his Michigan career Saturday. Up until the final minutes before kickoff, his teammates thought he might suit up.

“Thursday we found out (he might be out),” Van Bergen said. “It was still — the doctor said he wasn't going to play. If you asked Jordan, he was going to play. I think there was probably a fight right before we went out on the field and they were like, 'No, you probably shouldn't.' … You could tell he was hungry to be out there. He probably could've played but it wasn't in his best interest.

“Jordan's a competitor. I know he'll be back this week. He was running around yesterday, looking pretty good.”