At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
This again. One year after Michigan's offensive line looked pretty shiny as long as you did not consider the cliff after guy #6, Michigan's offensive line looks really shiny… as long as you don't consider the cliff after guy #5. Or maybe guy #4. In a best case scenario, still guy #6.
Last year, Michigan had Michael Schofield to step into the lineup, and needed him to. This year any injury will see a walk-on or freshman—probably a true freshman—hit the field. Yipes.
But let's not think about that. As long as the starting five stays intact, the line should be quality. Taylor Lewan is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick, Patrick Omameh is in his fourth year as a starter, Michael Schofield started most of last year and moves to a more natural position, and the other two guys are redshirt seniors. Michigan should have a better line this year even without David Molk.
At this point, "Taylor Lewan is the next Jake Long" is not hope or hype or projection but just a (pretty much) true thing. Lewan may not go first overall in the NFL draft but he's already being projected in the top half of the first round next year, should he choose to depart.
After a promising but penalty-filled freshman year, Lewan cut out the holding calls and stoned opposing pass rushers, snap in, snap out. The primary reason ultra-hyped MSU DE Will Gholston started playing judo chop with various Lewan limbs was that he had no hope of impacting the game in any other fashion:
In a game where the Michigan OL was overwhelmed, blitz or not (Mark Huyge got 7 protection minuses), Lewan had a measly +1. Across twelve games of fending off the opposition's best pass rusher he racked up a total of four protection minuses. Two of those were for not cutting a guy on a screen; a third was not getting out on a corner on an attempted double pass. The fourth is somewhere in that video above, and I'm not even sure what that was. Even counting that there was literally one QB hurry going one-on-one with Lewan last year, to say nothing of actual sacks. There is a reason he is getting the NFL hype.
(Note that when blitzes cause confusion not localizable to one or two players that sends in free rushers I file that under "team." Lewan's no doubt responsible for some of those. When he identifies a guy to block, it's over.)
The black lining in our silver cloud was Lewan's lack of impact in the run game. He started off well, with three games around +10 in the UFR run chart and a 7-3-+4 against ND in limited opportunities—Michigan did jack before eviscerating Gary Gray in the fourth quarter. This was noted.
how often have you thought about Taylor Lewan this year? Not often, right? Mostly when he takes some donkey and punches it so hard in the nose shards of cartilage come out the back of its donkeyhelmet, right? (In a non-personal-foul acquiring way, of course.)
After that, he struggled to register on the run chart until late. His Big Ten season:
Yeah, surprised me too: had a couple busts and one bad whiff.
Effective against DTs, mostly, also getting to the second level.
There's a certain amount of busting plays that is part and parcel of being an offensive lineman, especially one learning a new offense. That doesn't bother me. What does is the overall lack of positives until the tail end of the season. Heavily involved linemen will be putting up twice the positives and negatives as the above—Omameh had eight games where his positives were above ten and five where they were 13 or greater. Lewan didn't get there, and I think this was because of Omameh, ironically:
What is with those Lewan numbers?
The system doesn't try to judge blocks that are far away from the play and often declares an easy thing done okay to be a zero, so backside tackles and down-blocking guys a gap away from the play rarely register. Lewan rarely registered and this week's picture pages were examples of Schofield pulling, Schofield pulling, and Schofield pulling. Why is Michigan pulling the converted tackle backup and running away from their donkey-hating first round tackle?
The only conclusion that makes sense is they hate pulling Omameh. When they did pull left, they pulled Molk or Schofield and Molk, only rarely trying Omameh.
We'll talk about that when we get to the right guard, but Omameh came on in those last three games in which Lewan finally got some traction. Once they could pull the right guard, the left tackle got to express his donkey hatred.
With Omameh figuring it out and another year of experience for both, Michigan figures to be more left-handed on the ground; combine that with the pass blocking mentioned above and factor the injuries Lewan dragged around all year and the projections for his 2012 should be sky-high. He should be an All-American, or at least play like one.
[hit THE JUMP to find out about the other starters, but probably not the backups.]
On the right side, the unkillable Mark Huyge is finally slain by NCAA eligibility limits and redshirt junior Michael Schofield steps in. Schofield was the #6 guy on the line last year, but quickly became a fixture in the starting lineup when Ricky Barnum's high ankle sprain sidelined him.
Schofield had some issues identifying who he should block at times, especially when he pulled. At right you can see him run by a linebacker instead of going for a safety, and there was a midseason series of posts about how being a guard was pretty hard based on Schofield doing stuff like this:
But that's understandable for a guy who had never played guard before Michigan's lack of viable linemen forced him to multi-task last year. His ability to get out on that edge speaks to his athleticism even if he didn't always know what to do once he got out there, and now that he's moving to tackle he'll get to use that athleticism without having to go through rapid-fire target acquisition in space as much. Even with those problems his UFR chart is encouraging:
[dropped the noncon since he didn't really play against ND]
Fortunate to have a sixth OL as competent as this.
Kawaan Short got the better of him; other than that he was cruising along at that 2:1 positive ratio that indicates you're doing pretty well. In pass protection he picked up a minus or two in most games—not in Lewan's class, but who is? He'll get stiffer tests on the outside this year.
I think he'll handle them admirably. Schofield should be an upgrade. Huyge may have been unkillable but he was never more than okay. As mentioned above, Michigan was mostly right-handed when they ran their power sets, and that was a major reason the I-form power stuff was so depressing. Lewan didn't get to donkey many people and Huyge was iffy when it came to the down blocks that are supposed to be the easy bit of power. Schofield brings a better resume as a run blocker and should transition easily to tackle, the position he was recruited to play and groomed at until injury forced Michigan's hand. He'll be in the running for All Big Ten.
Hoooo boy. The only scholarship tackles on the roster past the starters are true freshmen. This preview is guessing that Kyle Kalis will eventually lock down the left guard job, but in the event of an injury to a tackle he could slide to right tackle if he's Michigan's best option there. He's discussed below.
Michigan's other two options come either huge or highly touted. 6'7", 320 pound Ben Braden [recruiting profile] is the former. He's a universal three-star recruit but also the MGoBlog co-sleeper of the year. While he's huge enough to play right now with some expectation of success, his technique needs a lot of refinement.
Erik Magnuson [recruiting profile] comes with more stars next to his name but is about 40 pounds lighter than Braden and may need more time in the weight room before he can take on Big Ten players. If a tackle goes down, it's pick your poison.
Elliot Mealer may be an option—he was the guy off the bench last year when Lewan was having limbs stapled back on—but given the way Michigan over-protected him when he was in the game, I doubt they have much faith in him versus edge rushers. If he plays, it will be at guard.
If the freshmen aren't ready it'll probably be redshirt junior walk-on Erik Gunderson. At 6'8" 303 he's got the size, and Hoke mentioned him along with the freshmen when asked about the situation at backup tackle. He made four appearances last year.
Rating: 4 of 5.
Rimington winner and reach-block fiend David Molk exits, and Michigan will feel that loss. How keenly depends on how senior Ricky Barnum adapts to center. While this is all but unknowable, the vague indicators we've got so far are encouraging. Barnum's recruiting profile was good, he's gathered the sort of raves from coaches and teammates that seem to mean something from the coaches…
"He's doing great, he really is," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He's kind of embraced (the position switch), and he has from the time we posed it to him. I said this before — he fits that position better maybe than he did playing guard.
"He could play guard in a minute, but he fits the center position well. He's embraced it, he's a smart kid and that's huge for that position because a lot goes into it with the calls."
…over the course of his career, he played pretty decently before the ankle sprain last year, and he seemed to be moving almost as well as Molk used to in those spring practice highlight videos. In one of his brief cameos last year he got clipped for a nice pull:
Takeaways? Barnum can move. In each one of these Michigan picks up a big gain because Barnum shows excellent agility and an ability to seal a guy on the move. Here it's a stretch play; other times it was a pull. I think we're going to be just fine at center.
Next play is a QB power on which Barnum pulls. The TV always tells me that's a rare thing that can be of great utility to an offense. Barnum gets well downfield and crushes Morgan to the inside, opening up a lane Denard hits for six.
He didn't see enough time for his UFRs to be useful.
Barnum's a senior who beat out a pretty good Michael Schofield last year and all the tea leaves on him are positive. He's got the right size, he's got the mobility, he should ably replace Molk. He won't be as good, but he'll be somewhere between average and the guy who finishes second to Wisconsin's center for All Big Ten.
Next to Barnum, Patrick Omameh returns for a fourth year as a starter. Recruited as a finesse left tackle and moved to guard once Rodriguez realized he was a huge asset blocking in space, Omameh is the exact opposite of what Brady Hoke wants in his linemen. He blocks the second level like whoah, as the famous Te'ownage from the 2010 Notre Dame game amply demonstrates. When he's going up against defensive tackles sometimes he gets obliterated.
Compounding matters, his early attempts to run POWER were so poor that he often hit the hole even with or behind the ballcarrier:
What happened to Omameh?
Michigan pulled him in this game, seemingly to prove once and for all that for whatever reason he can't pull. He's a light, quick lineman who gets to the hole slightly slower than Tom Harmon, who is dead:
Combining him with the lightning-quick Robinson is not so good.
His struggles against big, powerful defensive tackles continued, a problem that grew in magnitude since he was tasked with more frontal assaults last year.
It got bad. He racked up a 0-6-negative 6 day against the same ND team he Te'owned the year before; I noted he was "inexplicably doubling DTs on outside power instead of getting to Te'o on second level." He was the only member of the starting OL to keep playing deep into the Minnesota blowout, which to my eyes signaled the coaches' displeasure with his execution:
Michigan doesn't have much depth on the OL but they've got someone who can go out there leading Minnesota by 50 in the fourth. The other guard was a walk-on.
He had a –3.5 against MSU. A –2.5 against Iowa was declared "the usual."
Then something happened. It might have been this "coaching" stuff we heard about these days. Whatever it was, even though Omameh got rag-dolled a couple times by Akeem Spence against Illinois he was otherwise very good. His Nebraska game was even better, and then against OSU he did two things that indicated he was Getting It.
Thing the first was pulling on POWER and getting there easily.
He'd done that in the previous game; doing it against OSU repeatedly made it not a fluke.
Thing the second was Te'owning Ryan Shazier.
Omameh's last three games of the regular season were +6.5, +7, and +11, and his ability to pull allowed Michigan to run left again, with the above-mentioned impact on Lewan's run numbers.
With another year to add weight and practice those pulls, Omameh should be closer to what he was at the end of the season than the beginning. He'll still be too light to go mano-a-mano with enormous nose tackles and not get blown up too regularly for Hoke's taste; he'll still have a couple of downfield blocks that take out two for the price of one and spring someone for a long one. He'll be a B or B+ player.
ALL HAIL BEARD
Left guard is the only question mark on the line. Senior Elliott Mealer was the early favorite, but walk-on Joey Burzynski took the first snaps during the spring game. Mealer re-took the lead in fall camp, currently holds the top spot on the depth chart, and has been formally announced as the starter. At the UM Club of Greater Detroit's Kickoff Dinner, Hoke was asked for any players who had surprised in fall, and Hoke said Mealer was one. Senior hype? Maybe. But look at that beard. Puttin' in work.
Mealer's only seen sporadic snaps thus far in his Michigan career, and when those snaps have come at tackle they've always been paired with tight ends to his side and have never been passes. So he's not an edge guy. He did come out of Ohio with a pretty good recruiting rep a while ago and the guys he's been stuck behind have not exactly been schlubs, so there's some upside here.
Mealer will have to reach that upside if he's going to fend off what should be a ferocious pursuit. When a guy people are calling the most prepared OL they've seen in a decade shows up on a team whose depth chart at tackle reads "AIIIEE" and is immediately shoved to guard, that's because he's got a good shot at playing.
Yeah, Kyle Kalis—cue Imperial March—is going to assume the position, sooner or later. "Later" could be 2013; "sooner" could be the ND game. As a freshman the sum of assembled Kalis knowledge can be found in his recruiting profile. A brief snippet:
Helmholdt: "appears to derive great pleasure from punishing the man across the ball."
Bentley: "me and two other guys that saw him, and all three of us said the same thing: that's Jake Long as a guard."
The excitable Duane Long: "Kalis should not be allowed to play against high school players. What he does to opponents borders on assault."
You get the idea. When Hoke was pinged about the backup tackles three weeks into fall camp, he called out both freshmen mentioned above and Gunderson, but not Kalis. So he's playing just guard right now. Given the data, that has to mean they expect him to play. Maybe not against Alabama, maybe not against Air Force, but at some point Kalis is going to get in the game, whether by sheer force or injury.
"Freshman, I hear you need some fashion tips" –extremely real conversation between Jack Miller (left) and Blake Bars (right)
The two losers in the left guard derby will be the primary backups at both guard spots. At center, redshirt freshman Jack Miller has consistently generated positive practice buzz for his proverbial mean streak. He's another year away from having the size Michigan wants in their OL; it would be suboptimal if he was pressed into action slightly before his time. Miller's recruiting profile is still the most useful document on him since he hasn't seen playing time.
Michigan also has Chris Bryant, the enormous guard out of Chicago who Rodriguez inexplicably recruited. While he's got recruiting hype, he's also got a broken tibia. He's out for the year.
Finally, freshman Blake Bars [recruiting profile] seems destined for guard and a redshirt. The wild guess here is they would put Braden or Magnuson in at RT and move Schofield down to guard if there's a typhoon of injuries on the interior, but at that point it's all about whiskey anyway.
To see the true Gholston, you need to watch games in which MSU isn't playing Michigan. It is clear in the video's that Gholston wasn't trying to pass rush, he was trying to contain because Robinson is fast. I don't think Gholston is as good as others are saying, but people on this board make him sound like he's terrible, which he isn't.
I said this last year as well but the previews are my favorite part of Mgoblog. I got hooked on the blog and following Michigan seriously after reading them. The UFRs are the trademark but the video links and in depth analysis presented here is just an amazing way to prepare for and get excited about the season
This piece just reminded me of a question I had regarding this year's HTTV. In it there is a nice piece whereby B1G teams probable success in 2012 is projected based on a variety of factors but O Line tenure together was not one of them. I had read that if you want to crystal ball a team's success or failure one of the most important variables was the number of games the O Line had played together as a unit and yet this variable was ommitted from the study.
Is the O Line continuity an overstated predictor or did it just get missed in the article? I know Bo used to absolutely preach that if you could control the line of scrimmage on Offense you could control the game and I've always thought that he was right.
One request - if using the jump to break up articles is going to become a normal thing, is it possible to make the "read more" link jump to the spot you were reading? That's how most sites work, but this always returns me to the top, and I have to scroll or ctrl+f to find my place again. It's a minor thing so I don't care that much, but it would be a nice feature.
Linemen don't get much credit, but they anchor everything. They are so important to the success of a team. Exhibit A: Alabama. Their linemen won them the MNC. Well, they paved the way, and they allow for a QB game manager.
I am a lot more "up" about our linemen, both on offense and defense, than the MSM. I am ecstatic about our OL recruiting. If we get the same kind of OL recruits in 2014 as we did in 2013, following a very good 2012, we will be in the realm of reloading, and will have the luxury to take only the very best. I hated watching our linemen pushed around by Ohio, and Wisconsin, and MSU, and USC, over the last 10 years. (Ok, obviously that's an oversimplification, but you get my point.)
Having skilled guys on the line, who are big enough, and strong enough, and fast enough, and mean enough, with a consistent coaching scheme, makes a huge, huge, difference.
Beyond the OL, I am thrilled that Hoke and Mattison and Montgomery are beating up on and molding the defensive line. I am so hopeful that Campbell and Ash and Washington have really turned the corner, and that with Roh and Black and Pipkins and Clark, we will have enough depth and size and skill to do something this year.
I love this feature of mgoblog. Thank you, Brian!
“Top to bottom Michigan is about excellence, greatness. You have my pledge I will carry forward the excellence of Michigan football." Jim Harbaugh, December 30, 2014
Fun Fact: next year, we could realistically be breaking in 4 new underclassmen offensive linemen. I think in 2 or 3 years (once Hoke's classes are the veterans) we will absolutely dominate, but those expecting a steady improvement years 1, 2, and 3 will be disappointed (or as disappointed as you can be with 9/10 win seasons).
We'll see how it all works out. If Kalis is starting by the end of the year, we'll be breaking in only 3, and only 2 if Lewan decides to stay. Miller is hardly an underclassman since he'll be in his third year on campus next fall, but the other two will be. Hopefully Bryant can bounce back, because I'll feel pretty good about most every spot on next year's line except the not-Kalis guard.
Maybe early-enrollee Bosch will be the answer. Because who would want an OL without a true frosh starter, right? Year after that though, we're looking good.
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