Continuing our positional breakdown and predictions series, Derick takes a look at the offensive line and what we can expect from the unit this season. For previous posts, see Quarterbacks.
Last Year’s Line
Many fans wonder how Michigan will fare after losing over half of the starters from the 2012 offensive line. Brady Hoke graduated three talented linemen this year, when Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh moved on to the NFL. All three former starters were left undrafted in April, but signed as free agents afterwards.
Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are the only returning starters. Lewan started every game for the Wolverines at left tackle in 2012 while Schofield did the same at right tackle. These two fifth-year seniors will be critical in shaping the 2013 line, as Michigan offensive line Coach Darrell Funk tries to restructure this unit with the help of a couple of talented recruiting classes.
Returning Starters: Know What To Expect
Losing three starters from the offensive line may look like a blessing to Michigan fans when they consider the makeover project that could have taken place had Lewan declared for the 2013 draft. He may only make up one-fifth of the line, but the first-team All-American gives what promises to be a very young offensive line the anchor, leader and teacher it needs.
Lewan figured to be a sure-fire top-10 pick in the 2013 draft, but elected to return to Michigan for his senior season. Lewan’s decision not only gave Michigan a talented player on the field, but also an unquestioned leader at a position where it definitely needs one.
In returning to school, Lewan proved himself to be a ‘Michigan Man,’ a label that only the Maize and Blue faithful can understand. Much as Brady Hoke did when he took the job at Michigan, Lewan will demand immediate respect from the young players that will share important minutes on the offensive line this season. As the returning Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award-winner, Lewan will make everyone around him better while solidifying the most important position on the offensive line: left tackle.
On the field, Lewan is one of the best lineman in the country, and has even been named to the Walter Camp Player of the Year Watch List. He has the ability to protect the quarterback against almost any other player in the country, as he showed in the 2013 Outback Bowl when he contained South Carolina’s freak athlete Jadeveon Clowney for the majority of the game. One thing that has frustrated fans is Lewan’s tendency to pick up personal fouls after the whistle. While his competitiveness has caused him to pick up some of these late flags, Lewan should be able to stay away from these types of mistakes as a fifth-year senior. Hoke will count on Lewan to be a leader this season, so the mental mistakes should be rare for the tackle.
On the opposite side of the line should be Schofield, who will likely start at right tackle. The redshirt senior spent most of the 2011 season at left guard before moving to his current place on the right side for the entire 2012 season. With Lewan and Schofield, the tackle positions should be a strength of the Michigan team in 2013, despite the questions that remain for the rest of the offensive line.
|Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will both start in every game, barring injury|
|Games Played||Games Started|
|Lewan: 37||Schofield: 39||Lewan: 35||Schofield: 23|
Next In Line: 2013 Contributors
For a football team to have the kind of success Michigan is hoping for this season, having depth on both lines is crucial. The starters get most of the attention, but when the big guys need a break, the back-ups play a big role. Michigan returns three players that have seen time on the line and could be called on to play bigger roles now that three major pieces have graduated.
After redshirting his freshman year, center Jack Miller appeared in six games at center last season. Redshirt senior Erik Gunderson has seen little game time but did play in five games last season and can give Michigan another veteran presence during his fifth season. Joey Burzynski started to see more minutes on the line near the end of the 2012 season and could contend with the freshmen for major minutes this season. Even if these veterans don’t play a majority of the snaps, they will provide Coach Funk with much more security at the offensive line position if some of the highly-regarded recruits have difficulty holding up in the Big Ten.
|Miller, Gunderson, and Burzynski all come off the bench and contend for important minutes|
|Games Played||Games Started|
|Miller: 6||Gunderson: 9||Burzynski: 12||Miller: 0||Gunderson: 0||Burzynski: 0|
Worth The Wait: Last Year’s Class
Don’t let this year’s top-10 class make you forget about the group Brady Hoke recruited in 2012. All the senior leadership on the line last season allowed Michigan to redshirt several highly-rated recruits at the offensive line position.
These redshirt freshman will be led by former five-star Kyle Kalis and four-star Erik Magnuson. Kalis was rated as a top-10 offensive lineman by Scout, Rivals and ESPN and considered one of the best high school players out of the state of Ohio. Kalis is highly regarded for his athleticism and superior blocking ability, which he used to completely dominate defenses in high school. Magnuson is similarly gifted, and is known for playing harder than most other players on the field. One word that has often been used to describe the two young linemen is ‘power,’ which has turned them into great run-blockers. If Kalis and Magnuson play big roles on the line this season, expect the Michigan running game to improve drastically with physical backs like Thomas Rawls.
Fellow classmates Blake Bars and Ben Braden also received redshirts last season, despite receiving high grades during recruiting. Bars is an interesting player, because he could take advantage of Michigan’s hole at center to land himself a starting job. Always regarded as more of an interior lineman, Bars was more of an under-the-radar recruit in the shadow of Kalis and Magnuson, but could fight for minutes and play a significant role for the 2013 team. Braden stands out from his classmates because his strength is in the pass-blocking category, and he could see some playing time as a result. He had the lowest ranking of the four recruits, but that says more about the strength of the class than it does about Braden’s game.
|Kalis and Magnuson win starting jobs while Bars and Braden battle with the impressive freshman class for more time|
|Games Played||Games Started|
|Kalis: 0||Magnuson: 0||Bars: 0||Braden: 0||Kalis: 0||Magnuson: 0||Bars: 0||Braden: 0|
Fresh Faces: The Sequel
Everyone around Michigan football is excited about the group of offensive lineman that make up the 2013 recruiting class. Brady Hoke landed six standout players for the line, and now the team might have more depth than ever at the position. Dan Samuelson, Kyle Bosch, David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler and Logan Tuley-Tillman are six of the top players in Hoke’s latest top-10 class. Kugler and Bosch have a chance to start from day one, and their classmates aren’t far behind. While the 2012 class gives Hoke the option to redshirt the whole class like he did last season, some of these guys may be too good to wait on.
Likely the newcomers will be split, with a couple earning true-freshman minutes and the others taking a year to develop. That being said, their performance in pre-season practices will obviously determine who plays this season. The fact that Hoke can even consider redshirting so many of these players speaks to the talent of the players that came to Michigan before them.
|Kugler and Bosch play during the 2013 season, with one of them winning a starting job. The other four either redshirt or fill in for injuries where needed, and play big roles in the future.|
|Average Star Ranking:|
|Bosch: 4||Kugler: 4.25||Dawson: 4||Fox: 4||Tuley-Tillman: 4||Samuelson: 3.25|
With so many options at offensive line, Michigan is one of the deeper teams in the country at one of the most important positions. Two strong recruiting classes in a row will build that kind of depth, and in Lewan they have potentially the best player in the country to help groom the young talent. Offensive Coordinator Al Borges has 19 offensive linemen on the roster, and so many of them have the talent to be starting Big Ten players that it’s hard to imagine blocking as a weak point for the 2013 team.
To help Devin Gardner settle into the offense in his first full year as starting quarterback, Lewan and company need to be strong. Physical running backs like Rawls and Derrick Green will also count very heavily on the interior strength of this unit to create space to run inside. While skill players get most of the national attention during the course of a football season, the teams with the best play in the trenches usually come out on top. Luckily, Michigan has many talented options to choose from in 2013.