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Predicting Michigan: The offensive line

Monday, June 30th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-OL

Kyle-Kalis

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.

The Starters

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.

Projected Starters
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Erik Magnuson Kyle Bosch Jack Miller Kyle Kalis Ben Braden
2013 Starts 7 3 4 8 0
Career Starts 7 3 4 8 0

Veteran Depth

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.

Newcomers

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?

Countdown to kickoff: 74 days

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-74(Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

Predicting Michigan: The offensive line

Thursday, July 25th, 2013


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 returned for his senior season to take care of unfinished business and lead the young line

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.

Projection
Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will both start in every game, barring injury
Career Stats
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.

Projection
Miller, Gunderson, and Burzynski all come off the bench and contend for important minutes
Career Stats
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.

Magnuson is the next in line under Lewan's guidance (Jeremy Wadsworth, Toledo Blade)

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.

Projection
Kalis and Magnuson win starting jobs while Bars and Braden battle with the impressive freshman class for more time
Career Stats
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.

Projection
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

Wrapping Up

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.

National Signing Day: visualizing Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013



Stay tuned in the coming days as we profile each of the 27 members of Michigan’s 2013 class.