Michigan’s offense was difficult to watch for much of the 2013 season as a normally-reliable Wolverine rushing attack imploded before vanishing from the offense by the middle of Big Ten play.
To compensate for the struggles on the ground, quarterback Devin Gardner was asked to drop back on more than half of the team’s snaps. Unfortunately for Gardner, he was almost never alone in the backfield. The middle of the offensive line was a sieve and turned the mobile quarterback into a proverbial tackling dummy.
Despite the group’s struggles, both tackles, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, further weakening the unit and raising major question marks for Brady Hoke and his new-look offensive staff.
Perhaps the brightest spot on Michigan’s offensive line comes in the form of two talented young guards. Sophomore left guard Kyle Bosch and redshirt sophomore right guard Kyle Kalis played a major role on the line last season and hope to solidify a group that lost its two leaders during the offseason.
Kalis had a breakout 2013 season, starting eight games and lining up with Schofield to form a right side that largely held its own during the majority of the season. The redshirt sophomore is the strongest run blocker on the team and will play a huge role in turning around the running game.
Bosch blossomed much later in the campaign than Kalis, earning his first start against Michigan State because of his teammates’ struggles during the first half of the season. With the departure of Lewan from the left side, Bosch will have to improve his run blocking game, which was his calling card during high school.
In between the two strong guards Michigan returns center Jack Miller, who struggled for much of 2013 but started four games for Al Borges. Miller earned the starting spot after a strong offseason, and will likely start Week 1 while Graham Glasgow serves a one-game suspension for an offseason offense.
Michigan needs Miller to decrease his mental errors after he snapped the ball several yards over Gardner’s head and fumbled exchanges as a sophomore. Hoke hopes that a more focused offseason under Doug Nussmeier will eliminate many of the baffling mistakes that reared their ugly heads last season.
The departure of Lewan and Schofield leaves a mammoth-sized gap on either end of the offensive line, as the two seniors started all 13 games for Hoke last season. The left tackle position, which has seen the program produce two top-12 picks in the last decade, will likely be filled by redshirt sophomore Erik Magnuson.
Magnuson stormed onto the stage as a redshirt freshman, playing in 12 games and starting seven times as a guard. The sophomore admitted that he struggled with injuries throughout 2013 before a shoulder surgery sidelined him for this year’s spring game. Despite the medical concerns, Magnuson is the top candidate to succeed Lewan on the left side, as he owns the dominant run-blocking ability to carry the rushing attack.
Ben Braden figures to earn the nod at right tackle. The redshirt sophomore is the only projected starter to not have a career start to his name, but he came out of spring practice with the job, and at 6’6″, 319-pounds, has the body for the position.
|Left Tackle||Left Guard||Center||Right Guard||Right Tackle|
|Erik Magnuson||Kyle Bosch||Jack Miller||Kyle Kalis||Ben Braden|
While Miller starts the opener, Graham Glasgow will be ready to replace him in Week 2 if he either wins the job in fall camp or Miller struggles. Glasgow is the only returning lineman that started every game last season and did well at center. But his natural position is guard, so Hoke and Nussmeier will be able to evaluate the Week 1 performance and either insert Glasgow into any of the three interior positions or hold onto him as a quality if-needed backup.
Nussmeier owns plenty of other options if his initial lineup falters early in the 2014 season. One of the strongest offensive line recruiting classes in recent memory brought four players to Ann Arbor last season that are ready to contribute as redshirt freshmen this fall. Former five-star Patrick Kugler is a potential breakout player to watch if Miller’s struggles continue at center and Glasgow is needed at guard. Kugler was one of the top linemen in the country to come out last season and his elite quickness equips him with the skills to start on the inside line.
Four-stars David Dawson, Logan Tuley-Tillman and Dan Samuelson also joined the rotation during the spring game and provide Nussmeier with critical depth on the line. Dawson is the mostly likely to join a regular rotation, as his pass blocking ability complements a group of linemen that were recruited to help the ground attack.
The only freshman that figures to play a significant role on the 2014 team is Mason Cole, who offers Nussmeier an elite pass blocker for his pro-style offense. Cole may already be the best pass protector on the team, and took first-team snaps at left tackle during the spring game. If Magnuson’s shoulder isn’t fully healed by the first game, Cole will likely get the nod at left tackle. Otherwise, he’ll be a top sub at tackle. Look for the freshman to make a splash despite the abundance of veteran options.
Check back on Wednesday and Thursday for Drew’s Big Ten offensive lineman rankings. Will any Michigan linemen make the list?