Hokepoints: When Will the O-Line Be Ready?
This week Michigan pulled in a commitment from another offensive lineman. That makes six for the 2013 class, with the possibility of a seventh, on top of four in 2012, on top of…well that's the point isn't it?
It's easy to point fingers […in the general direction of Tucson] for the dilapidation of M's o-line depth. Rodriguez did knowingly and willfully get too picky with his 2009 and 2010 recruiting, perhaps figuring the massive 2008 haul would tide him over until he was winning championships and could offer playing time and non-ridiculous uniforms to Oregon targets. The result was two great tackles in '09, just a center in 2010, and then much striking out in what was supposed to be the year of many Hobbis and Yruretagoyenas, the wanton whiffing exacerbated five times over by [the bad timing of…] The Process.™
A man cannot be faulted for the circumstances of his creation, and certainly Brady Hoke and co. have since done a bang-up job of finding large and talented young gentlemen willing to stand between us and the ill-begotten creatures that plague Big Ten defenses. That's not to say they'll be any good at it…yet. Like a basement full of wedding gifts without a house to fit them all, our future of wealth and comfort is all but promised but we wonder how long must we wait?
Answer: some time yet, sorry. I hate to bury the lede, so here's a great big spoiler. We're gonna have a little history lesson, and then you're going to find this:
Year in Program:
|Not on team||1||6||13||16||28|
|% Solid +||1.4%||9.5%||21.5%||33.8%||37.3%|
What the hell this is: It's me tracking the development of Michigan offensive linemen over the last 20 years based on how many years each has been in the program. It is subjective on the top and a bit accusatory in the middle and perhaps only a little bit useful on the bottom where I show things like just 1 in 5 of all the great centers and guards and tackles in two decades of Michigan recruiting end up ever becoming All Big Ten-level players. It seems to say that there's a lot that can go wrong between the gathering of the linemen and the deployment of the linemen.
It also says it takes time: in 20 years of OL recruiting just seven guys (Lewan, Molk, Long, Backus, Hutchinson, Jansen and Boren) were even ready to be okay starters by their second years in the program. If one guy from the 2012 class starts this year and is proficient, that's beating the odds; the chances of the 2012-'13 classes forming a proficient unit by 2014 are the chances of finding five NFL linemen in ten recruits.
A History of Michigan OL Recruiting, 1993-2011
I wanted to go back far enough to get a relatively large enough sample of Michigan offensive linemen and some idea of how a class of recruits matures into a line. Because this involved a lot of memory and subjectivity, I included my written impressions of all of these linemen below. That information was put into chart form to produce the above money chart.
For the years before Rivals-Scout these are general senses gleaned from Lemming, Prep Football Report, and one blogger's admittedly bad memory. They should not be trusted. From 2002 on it's an average of star rankings from Rivals, Scout, and after 2006, ESPN – positional rankings are composites of those available.
Also I'm going to ignore dudes who were defensive linemen for the majority and end of their careers because there's no way to say how good they would have turned out. They are: Will Campbell, Marques Slocum, Alan Branch, and Quinton Washington.
1993: Damon Denson (★★★★★) was Maurice Williams before it was cool, riding in on a wave of hype then wasting effectively two years (including burned redshirt) playing defensive line, having his eligibility run out just as soon as he was getting really good at donkey abuse. Unlike Williams he had a short and uneventful pro career. Zach Adami (★★★½) was a smallish three-year starter you could plug in anywhere who came in for one of those "your team won, here's some extra all-conference pins for your longtime starters" awards his senior year in '97. John Partchenko (★★★), and Joe Ries (★★½) never saw the field that I recall and neither made it to 5th years.
1994: Jon Jansen (right) (★★★★ as a TE) was also a great linebacker for Clawson. That athleticism plus his massiveness led to three years of starting, two All-B1G selections, and a long and productive NFL career. Noah Parker (★★★) was a small Floridian career backup at guard.
1995: Steve Frazier (★★★½) and Chris Ziemann (★★★★) were constant presences as injury starters on the '97 to '99 lines, both ending up okay-ish (Frazier's infamous snap over Brady's head in the '99 Illinois game notwithstanding) as 5th year seniors. Eric Moltane (★★★★) was an early medical loss, Jeff Potts (★★★) was buried on the depth chart.
[Pics of different dudes wearing 77, after THE JUMP…]
1996: Steve Hutchinson (★★★★), Jeff Backus (★★★★½), and David Brandt (★★★), were all longtime starters and the core of the greatest Michigan OL in the period. Hutchinson and Backus were both 4-year starters, multiple All-B1G selections and longtime NFL-ers, Hutch being among the best to ever play his position. Paul Tannous (★★★★½) may have joined them, but was injured his freshman year and never played.
1997: The '97 class was considered for its time one of the best OL hauls of any school ever, however contributions from this group would be spotty. Maurice Williams (★★★★) spent a year on the defensive line, then two as a backup OT, getting in one great year in 2000 before heading off to the NFL. Kurt Anderson (★★★★) bid his time then became a decent center as a 5th year senior. Jason Brooks (★★★★½) was the supposed jewel of the class but was dismissed from the team while still an underclassman. Todd Mossa (★★★★) was lost to injury, and Ben Mast (★★★) had a Henige-like career as the 2000-'01 line's sixth Beatle.
1998: Dave Petruziello (★★★★½) started a couple of years but was never better than serviceable. Joe Denay (★★½) was a skyscraper of a contingency who got some play as a situational dude.
1999: Another big haul year that netted good but non-world-destroying returns. Would-be LT Demeterius Solomon (★★★★★) was a basically a bust—he started most of his RS sophomore year and was a problem. Would-be RT Tony Pape (★★★★★) didn't match the hype but still put in a much appreciated Schofield-like three-year starting career, with some hardware. Expected guard Dave Pearson (★★★★) became a very serviceable two-year starter who anchored and defined "The Daves." Expected guard Courtney Morgan (★★★★) got a few starts as a junior but was mostly a liability eventually displaced by the Class of '01. Andy Brown (★★★★) was lost to injury, necessitating various Daves playing center. Jonathan Goodwin, a junior transfer from OHIO!, turned out to be an important part of the 2000-'01 lines.
2000: David Baas (★★★★) was easily Michigan's best interior OL since his redshirt year and the second-best since, putting in two progressively good to great seasons at guard before shifting to center as a senior. Andy Chistopfel (★★½) and Jeff Gaston (★★★) were contingencies who didn't earn 5th years.
2001: Dan Simelis (★★★★½) was supposed to be the prize but a medical thing ended his career before it could get underway. Leo Henige (★★★★) was mostly a 6th OL who finally became an okay starter his 5th year. Matt Lentz (★★★½) and Adam Stenavich (★★★½) were the overlooked part of the class yet both ended up becoming solid three-year starters.
2002: "The Silent Js" (I was particularly fond of naming things in my college years) were the first OL class to come with positional rankings. It also could have been called Mike Kolodziej (★★★★, 13-14th OT) and stuff. Kolo turned out to be just that. Reuben Riley (★★★, ~50th G) was a sometime 6th OL, sometime liability of a starter, and Mark Bihl (★★★, ~55th G) worked his way onto the field as an eventually serviceable starter. Tom Berishaj (★★★, ~60th G) lost his career to injury.
2003: Jake Long (★★★★, ~16th OT) was a late riser, a come-lately to football described as having quick feet, a mean streak, a lot to learn but a ceiling surpassing that of mortal men; he ended up the 1st overall pick of the NFL draft. Adam Kraus (★★★★, 17th OG) was ranked as a tight end until late in the process, and listed as such originally at Michigan before becoming very good at plowing furrows for the burrowing Hart. Jeff Zuttah (★★★½) wasn't cleared to play by M's physicians but ended up having an okay career at Stanford. Pat Sharrow (★★★, ~59th OG) lost his career to injury in '07.
2004: This is the class we were shaking our fists at as 2008 approached, even before it got as bad as it did. Brett Gallimore (★★★★, ~12th OT) was far overrated and ended up as career depth. Alex Mitchell (★★★½, 3rd OG to 53rd OT) was a planetary object who sparked disagreement between everyone until he turned out to be just a planetary object. Jeremy Ciulla (★★★½ ~22nd OG) was kind of a contingency who turned out to be a liability in a few starts in '07, and Grant DeBenedictis (★★★, ~60th OT) was a sleeper who never woke. Only Mitchell ever started long-term, and nobody returned for a 5th year.
2005: Another big, rebuilding haul that netted distressingly small returns, for various reasons. Cory Zirbel (★★★★ ~15th OT) was the highest-rated and he seemed to be on track for some solid late-career contribution before injury ended him. David Moosman (★★★★ ~14th OG) may have been a better complementary player who was left exposed in the wrong system; it's hard to judge a guy recruited as a MANBALL pulling guard for ending his career as a bad snap fountain while spotting an injured Molk at center of a spread 'n shred. Justin Schifano (★★★★ ~16th OG) never moved up the depth chart and left football after his sophomore year. Mark Ortmann (★★★ ~43rd OT) and Tim McAvoy (★★★½ ~26th OC) were, to fans, considered backup plans who were never meant to start; Ortmann did and did okay for his talent level, while McAvoy was apparently worse than a guy who'd been a defensive tackle a week before.
2006: Justin Boren (★★★★½, 3rd OG) and Stephen Schilling (★★★★★ ~2nd OT) were the highlights of an '06 class that could have used more of them. Boren was immediately serviceable—the only true freshman in this entire period who managed to pull that off—but a mid-career transfer to Ohio State (and the awful O-line coaching they were doing over there at the time) kind of kept him from ever raising the bar much higher than that. Schilling was out of place as a young OT who just wasn't built for pass pro, but managed the transition to spread 'n shred guard pretty well, ended up a four-year starter with two of those years up to par. After those guys were reaches. Perry Dorrestein (★★½ ~66th OT) was the Coner of the offensive line except forced to start for two seasons. John Ferrara (★★★½ ~72nd DT) was the afore mentioned defensive lineman who switched to guard mid-week, leapt past McAvoy, and juuuust beat out a recycling bin to see time as injury replacement his junior year.
2007: Undersized, underappreciated David Molk (★★★½ ~5th OC) was the first player recruited for Michigan's switch to zone blocking in '07, serendipitously providing Rodriguez with the perfect spread center; injuries included his career mirrors that of Long, minus the apparent value to NFL teams. Unfortunately the only other OL recruited for this shift was Mark Huyge (right: Heiko) (★★½ ~83rd OT), who turned out to be as limited in pass pro as his rankings indicated, yet unkillable as a starter, as each time a healed senior or budding youth threatened his spot another position always seemed to open up.
2008: The OL had grown rickety and Carr already had most of a full class signed when he left. That included headliner Dann O'Neill (★★★★ ~10th OT) who transferred to Western Mich when the season went to shit and he couldn't crack the depth chart. The rest of the Carr guys were Kurt Wermers (★★★ ~23rd OG), who reportedly couldn't find the right balance between football, school, and pwning neubs; Rocko Khoury (★★½ ~69th OG), a career backup who lost his last season and best shot at starting to injury; and Elliott Mealer (★★★½ ~32nd OG) who grew a mountain beard but never really grew into more than a mediocre center. To that Rodriguez added spread-oriented Ricky Barnum (★★★½ ~9th OC) the apparent Moosman of the switch back to MANBALL, and Patrick Omameh (★★ ~100th DE), a system sleeper and 3½-year starter who peaked as a spread 'n shred downfield blocker as a sophomore but never learned how to pull effectively.
2009: Taylor Lewan (★★★★ ~16th OT) is Jake Long 2.0, and fortunately hates college donkeys more than pro donkeys. Michael Schofield (★★★½ ~23rd OT) played guard pretty well as a sophomore and turned into a more-than-solid right tackle as a junior; he seems on track for an All-B1G season.
2010: Christian Pace (★★★ ~10th OC) had the Molk-ian things being said about him and seemed on track to be the Molk-ian heir apparent until an injury ended his career and left Michigan without a 2010 offensive lineman.
2011: Lost in The Process™ was an opportunity to address getting only three linemen in the last two classes, leaving Michigan with the planetoid project Christian Bryant (★★★ ~30th OG) , hopeful Molk 2.0 Jack Miller (★★★ ~35th OC) , and a few brief moments with Tony Posada (★★★ ~40th OG) before he transferred.
"So I reach the 3-tech, THEN flick off the camera; got it!" | Heiko
2012: Brought in Kyle Kalis (★★★★★ ~4th OG) , Erik Magnuson (★★★★ ~17th OT), Ben Braden (★★★ ~43rd OT), and Blake Bars (★★★½ ~40th OT). All redshirted.
2013: Patrick Kugler (★★★★½ ~3rd OC) , Kyle Bosch (★★★★, ~4th OG), David Dawson (★★★★ ~5th OG) , Chris Fox (★★★★ ~9th OT), Logan Tuley-Tillman (★★★★ ~18th OT) and Dan Samuelson (★★★ ~50th OG). All hail Hoke.
Year in Program:
|Not on team||1||6||13||16||28|
|% Solid +||1.4%||9.5%||21.5%||33.8%||37.3%|
Boring, explanatory things: All B1G+ means what you think it means; the baseline is David Molk in 2009 and better. Solid starter is your standard upperclassman Adam Stenavich year; baseline is anything that wasn't making you pull your hair out or go searching the depth chart for possible relief. Liability starters include all of this year's interior OL—picture Omameh at the top of that. Years cut short by injury are only counted as "Injured" if there weren't enough games against real competition to draw a baseline. "Not on Team" for a freshman means he transferred to Michigan later on in his career. Players were rated as how they performed in the offense of that year. If you're wondering why the 1st and 2nd years in program include 69 players but the other three columns add up to 67, that's because I'm supposing Lewan and Schofield will both be all-conference types in 2013, however Bryant and Miller are counted only for their first two years in the program.
Thing Things: The first and most obvious thing is 90% of Michigan offensive line recruits will have you pulling your hair out if they play before their third season removed from high school.
In two decades Michigan has had one true freshman capable of coming in and playing as a solid starter, or play on the offensive line at all for that matter. Last year we took quotes about how if any freshman in the country was ready to step in right away it was Kalis, yet he ended up being at best a guy who was close enough to Mealer that it wasn't worth burning his redshirt. This year people are using Kugler's background to suggest he could be factor. If he starts and performs markedly better than Mealer did this year, it would be a very rare thing indeed.
One thing this hasn't accounted for at all is how highly rated these guys are. The 2012 class is actually pretty in line with Michigan's historical recruiting over this period, but the incoming 2013s are noticeably higher. Show? Show.
|Class of||Players||Avg Stars|
And yes it makes a difference. There was barely any between 3-stars and 2-star so I lumped them all together. Here's the percent of players who manage to reach that "solid starter" or better threshold by x year:
|Year/Stars:||★★★★+||★★★ or ★★|
You get the point: recruiting rankings do matter. Sadly I don't have enough data points to make this linear (qualifying the careers of 70 offensive linemen over two decades is hard enough okay?!?) but I'm happy to cut a major corner and project this onto the current roster, putting Miller, Bryant, Bars, Braden and Samuelson on the 3-star track and the other guys all on the 4-star track.
|Total if I add the %s together:*||2.87||2.34||3.72||4.24||3.15|
*This is probably illegal
Unscientifically speaking, unless Funk can do much better with these guys than OL coaches previous (not unheard of), expectations for the next couple of years' offensive lines should stay relatively low, especially once Lewan and Schofield graduate and at least three starters are sophomores or younger. The filth of Saruman doesn't wash away in a day; you kinda have to sit in a mucky flood plain for awhile.
The good news is the 2016 o-line is probably going to rock, especially if the recruiting keeps going like it has been and there's a bunch of 4-star redshirt sophomores reinforcing Kalis and co.
How do the 2013 freshmen and redshirt freshmen compare?
Different coaches and training staffs and whatnot, but in general I think the 2012-'13 haul is quite similar to the two-year project of 1996 and '97. In that span Michigan recruited nine linemen with an average of four-star hype. A third were lost to injury or other stuff before becoming upperclassmen. One of the six remaining was a career backup, one was a backup until turning in a decent starting season as a 5th year senior, and one dicked around on the defensive line, limiting his contribution to Michigan to a single great season before running out of eligibility. One was a longtime solid starter. And then two became four-year starters with cases of conference awards and productive NFL careers.
I would set expectations for the 2012-'13 classes just above that. That's not to say that Kalis is the next Steve Hutchinson and Braden another Backus. But what we've got here is 10 or 11 offensive linemen coming in at about the same hype level as the nine from Carr's early years. None of those guys have any known personality issues, and none of them harbor dreams of becoming a 6'7 defensive tackle.
You have to give them time; the epic '96-'97 haul was epic, but what it produced was the offensive line of 2000, and much gnashing of teeth on the way. Hutchinson and Backus were assets to the national championship team, however it was having Jansen and Ziemann and Adami around that gave Griese enough time to look for Woodson, realize Woodson is on the sidelines, then set up a picnic and wait for Tuman or Streets to get open.
Likewise I expect at least half of this awesome to turn out to not be awesome, or at least not awesome for Michigan, or perhaps for parts of it to become so awesome they're in the NFL before the other parts are fully awesome-bloomed. I also expect that in 2016 Michigan will have the best offensive line in the conference, and perhaps the country.