"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
The Offensive Line: How Worried Should We Be?
After losing so many starters and back-ups, it is an obvious area of worry.
How bad is the situation? I'll look at the bad, the good, and then the questions. Many facts taken from Phil Steele and other previews.
- Long, Kraus, Boren, Mitchell (5 starts), Ciulla (5 starts) lost.
- Number of returning career starts for the whole offensive line is 118th in the NCAA (16: 13 for Schilling, 2 for Ortmann, 1 for McAvoy).
- Learning a new offense.
- Only 8-9 scholarship players, not counting true freshmen (of which, maybe only one or two have the size/skill to play immediately).
- Some of the projected starters are the kind of disappearing late-career players that would be the like of Doug Dutch acting as a starting CB or Anton Campbell starting at RB last year.
- The 4 new starters are all 4th year juniors. They are not 260 pound true freshmen.
- The 5 projected starters (Moosman-McAvoy-Zirbel-Schilling-Ortmann) were all highly rated coming out of high school. In Phil Steele parlance, VHTs. Let's compare their recruiting rankings, using the Phil Steele composite, to projected starters from schools like Texas and Ohio State. All are as OL unless noted.
Michigan: #39, #44, #20, #4, #33TE
Ohio State: #24, #25, #46, #6 (Adams, #39 [Browning] if not), #2
Texas: #35, #10, #55, #28, #23
As you can see, there is no significant difference.
- 6 true frosh are coming in, 4 of whom were very highly touted (4-5 star). At the very least, one would think Dann O'Neill has the size and skill and experience (played in a similar offense) to be a solid 2nd string and perhaps supplant another starter towards the end of the season. An OL starting as a true frosh is quite rare, but becoming less rare as HS programs become more sophisticated.
- Are these four new junior starters talented players who were just waiting their turn, or talented players overlooked by the previous coaching staff.... or, talented HS players who just don't have the skills to become real Big 10 starters?
- Will the new staff develop OL talent better? Others have pointed out the decline in Michigan OL quality and NFL draft picks recently, despite high quality recruiting.
- Injuries... the starters might be decent, but if a couple go down with injuries, who takes their place? There are a bunch of MAC-quality walk-ons/scholarship players (Huyge #275 OL in his class, Nowicki #233), plus 282 pound redshirt frosh Molk, plus the true frosh, plus Dorrestein on the outside. If you Molk and O'Neill have to see playing time on the inside and outside, respectively, this would probably be okay. But Nowicki, Huyge and Dorrestein?
- How will the freshmen develop?
- Does the new offense put less emphasis on high-quality pass-blocking skills (hard for a young player or MAC-level player to handle to handle) and more emphasis on Ninja Football trickery that an average OL can handle?
I look forward to comments from those who know football better and those who can correct any factual errors.