Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s especially hard to draw conclusions about what could’ve or should’ve happened when an injury is involved. But with how confident the coaches seem to be in Jake Ryan in everything he does, I don’t think they should’ve had anything but confidence when he said he’d be back by October. So while this shoulda, woulda, coulda is shaped around Brennen Beyer, it also has Ryan as a key component.
Shoulda … played Beyer at defensive end some through the first four games. Before Ryan came back the coaches said that they weren’t really thinking about what they would do when Ryan got back on to the field. However, even if Ryan didn’t play quite as well as he did last season (and I still think Ryan could best that in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), I think they knew he’d be a SAM, that he’d take reps, that he would be a player they wanted on the field. With that mindset, they should’ve been preparing Cameron Gordon and Beyer for that and deciding what to do with them. There’s no problem with Beyer still taking reps at SAM, but he could’ve been building in-game chemistry with the defensive linemen and getting game reps there through the first four games.
Coulda … Put more pressure on opposing QBs throughout the season. It's hard to put a number or exact statistic on this, but Beyer is definitely one of the better pass rushers on the team. Chemistry is really important on the defensive line and with him up front gaining chemistry with other players early in the season, it would’ve allowed the line to be more consistent later in the season. It also would’ve meant another leader on the defensive line. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington were good leaders up there, but having another upperclassmen to work with the younger guys, get players up for games, and keep them organized is never a bad thing, especially when some of the defensive line issues stemmed from communication problems. Beyer isn’t the loudest person in the world, but he’s definitely more talkative than Washington and a bit louder than Black.
Woulda … Had a better idea of what their line would look like through conference play. The Michigan defensive line didn’t reach the expectation for the position this season, but having Beyer take a few reps through the non-conference schedule would’ve given the D-line a chance to be closer to that expectation by the end of the season. The coaches should’ve trusted that Ryan would return, and had they started giving Beyer time on the line two or three weeks before they expected Ryan back, it would’ve given the defensive line a jump start in the Big Ten season.