Preview 2017: Offensive Line

Preview 2017: Offensive Line

Submitted by Brian on August 29th, 2017 at 4:07 PM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends.

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traaaaaaaaain [Bryan Fuller]

Depth Chart


LT Yr. LG Yr. C Yr. RG Yr. RT Yr.
Mason Cole Sr. Ben Bredeson So. Patrick Kugler Sr.* Mike Onwenu So. Jon Runyan Jr So.*
Andrew Stueber Fr. Stephen Spanellis Fr.* Cesar Ruiz Fr. Chuck Filiaga Fr. Juwann Bushell-Beatty Jr.*
Grant Newsome So.* Andrew Vastardis Fr.* Phil Paea Fr. Joel Honigford Fr. Nolan Ulizio So.*

[Ed. note: Newsome is actually a true junior but we are assuming he redshirts this season so the listed year is more accurate spiritually. Also Paea is probably a DT this year but I ran out of OL anyone's heard of.]

Michigan lost three starters to graduation and will be without left tackle Grant Newsome after his scary injury midway through last season. And… eh. By the time the graduated had played out their eligibility it was clear that there wasn't much anyone could do to turn them into a crew of firebreathers. Ben Braden (-9.4 to PFF) was willing but the very definition of stiff. Kyle Kalis(-6.3) was a missed assignment machine to the last. Erik Magnuson(+9.1) was a solid player but never an impactful one. None were drafted, and they collectively plateaued three years ago:

Year Adj Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Stuff Rate Adj Sack Rate
2013 118th 11th 120th 126th 112th
2014 50th 55th 32nd 67th 72nd
2015 53rd 107th 50th 33rd 13th
2016 64th 82nd 50th 81st 28th

Advanced line stats are a bit wonky because they also depend on the running back and style of offense, but the whole set tells a story. That story: mediocre players hitting their ceiling.

At some point it was clear they were playing mostly because Michigan didn't have any alternatives. When Newsome went out there was a brief dalliance with Juwann Bushell-Beatty at left tackle that went so poorly that Michigan flipped Braden out and brought in a true freshman in his stead. Everyone else other than Patrick Kugler, who was stuck behind Mason Cole, was some flavor of freshman as well.

So, they're gone and the replacements are incapable of voting. It's the end of the Hoke as we know it, and I feel fine. Except about the Newsome thing. That sucks.

TACKLE: COLE AND THE RANDOS

RATING: 2.5.

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there and back again [Eric Upchurch]

Last year MASON COLE moved to center because it was clear he was not a tackle. This year he returns to tackle because it's clear nobody else is.

Despite the somewhat awkward fit with Cole's body type, this foray should be mostly successful. At tackle, Cole was a near-elite run blocker, capable of overpowering and outmaneuvering defensive ends and linebackers. At center Cole's lack of oomph left him vulnerable to planet-sized nose tackles he couldn't move and gents like Malik McDowell who just wanted to bulldoze him.

Cole was better at the mental aspects of being a center. At the same time he was getting plowed by McDowell he was instrumental when MSU turned to their double A gap twist blitz. That blitz bedeviled Michigan for years under less competent coaches; Cole (and Harbaugh) throttled it:

The trademark MSU defensive playcall was comprehensively beaten. Finally. All of these plays feature the extreme aggression of the MSU linebackers being used against them, something that Michigan hasn't been able to do in forever. Can't block 'em? Run right by 'em.

The line just about maintained its very good adjusted sack rate with Cole at center despite suffering an injury to Newsome they simply could not afford. A large part of that goes back to Cole's ability to make the line calls. Bredeson's freshman biffs aren't on Cole's ability to organize, and Michigan was pretty dang organized in pass pro:

Zone running not so much, but more about that in Five Question and Five Answers. Michigan's frustrating inability to identify first level blocks on stretch plays all but removed those from the offense, so we never got to see if Cole could get his David Molk on. Getting a reach block is really hard and really good if you manage it and Cole had some promising upside in that department that never came to fruition.

[After THE JUMP: LARGE ADULT SONS, except not quite adult.]

This Week’s Obsession: Spring Movers 2017

This Week’s Obsession: Spring Movers 2017

Submitted by Seth on April 18th, 2017 at 12:44 PM

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We really have to stop forgetting about Kemp. [Bryan Fuller]

The annual question:

Player who made the biggest move this spring?

The annual responses:

Adam: I'd argue that a guy who looks like he could be a contributor yet doesn't have a headshot on the official site made a big move, so I'm going with Nate Schoenle. Prior to the game I knew of him because I glanced at the roster and figured he too must be familiar with people butchering his last name despite its relative simplicity. After the game I knew of him because he can do like, wide receiver things.

He's more of a downfield threat than a wiggly slot bug; he presents a matchup issue for safeties nevertheless. He lined up against legitimate competition and showed good speed as well as adequate hands and route-running. Schoenle may not see the field this fall--Michigan's bringing the Monstars of WR recruiting classes--but we now know that there's substantive competition in the slot.

----------------------------------

David: I liked Keith Washington. He was always an intriguing prospect at 6'2" but came in very raw. After an obvious redshirt, he got onto the field a bit last year, covering kicks and grabbing a couple of tackles. With all of Michigan's 2016 starting secondary gone and most of the replacements being very young, Washington looks like he could make a run at some playing time. He had a fantastic PBU on a fade route down the sideline. He seemed to stay step-for-step with wunderkind DPJ and brought him down after limited gains a few times. Washington also flashed some solid run defense, coming off the edge to make a couple of nice tackles (one specifically on Higdon after Karan bounced it outside). From what I could tell, Keith has made strides in all areas and with that lengthy frame, he could work his way onto the field for more meaningful snaps, this Fall.

Plus, how can you doubt a guy who will offer to spontaneously backup his 40 time in a parking lot?

[After the JUMP: How long will we wait for Ace to take Peters?]

Spring Stuff, 2017: Offense

Spring Stuff, 2017: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 17th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

The following folks did not play and are thus unmentioned: Drake Harris, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, Ian Bunting, JaRaymond Hall.

In addition, a few guys got the you're-a-starter hook: Mason Cole, Chris Evans, and Kekoa Crawford were only out there briefly.

A little more feelingsball

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HI [Bryan Fuller]

That was fun! I enjoyed it. The weather was terrific and the game was sort of an actual one insofar as OL depth permitted it and there was football to be observed and conclusions to be drawn from that football. At no point did anyone put on a little mesh hat so they could run an hour of kickoff drills.

Jim Harbaugh may be completely unpredictable in many things—he did not talk to reporters after the spring game, oddly—but he's made Michigan football very fun. I appreciated this on Saturday, sitting outside and watching the actual football. So, it seems, did many other people: I've usually just driven to the Crisler parking lot and parked. This would have been impossible on Saturday. The announced attendance (57,000 and change) was a totally made up number but it seemed plausible. What a nice change.

Highlights

Quarterback

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[Patrick Barron]

So... this might be a thing. If you recall, last year we entered the spring game expecting John O'Korn to be the starter; there had been some mumbles that Wilton Speight was right in the thick of it that most people discounted because of previous mumbles about how great O'Korn looked in practice. The spring game was an inflection point:

I am now convinced it's a real competition. Wilton Speight only had six attempts, but he completed five of them, confidently. I also had the benefit of observing the Ford Field practice, where nobody seemed clearly ahead of the pack at quarterback. Another piece of evidence in favor of a real competition: no quarterback got a quick you're-a-starter hook. John O'Korn is not a lock.

On Saturday Speight didn't get a you're-a-starter hook. He got a you-threw-a-101-yard-pick-six hook. John O'Korn took over for his team's final two drives, driving for touchdowns on both. Meanwhile, Brandon Peters did this:

One pick six marred an otherwise confident and accurate performance. The two best throws in there are probably the ones to Nate Schoenle, about whom more in a second. The first was a third and long conversion at 4:30 that looks a lot like the guy we saw on Peters's high school tape—unusually, I mean that as a compliment. He's got his guy, he knows it, and he tosses an accurate, catchable ball. Peters's ability to vary speeds is uncanny for a young quarterback, and it's good to see some of that is translating to college.

The second is the Schoenle wheel route to open the winning drive, which is just... dang, man. That's a hell of a throw, and Peters was making it most of the day despite a strong and swirling wind. (The earlier fade down the sideline that Jordan Glasgow got over the top on felt like it had been pushed by that wind.)

Peters moved decisively to get out of the pocket when necessary, scrambled for a touchdown, did not throw into coverage much, and was accurate on all but a couple throws. He looked very plausible at the same time Speight struggled.

As always you do not want to read too much into a disjointed, pressure-laden spring game. Unlike last year's QB competition this one has an incumbent. It's always hard to dislodge a guy who has a season under his belt, especially a guy who was reasonably good last year. Speight finished third in the league in passer rating and #2, Perry Hills, had 18 attempts a game. He's still the starter, probably. The spring game added "probably" to that sentence.

Running back

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easy for Isaac [Eric Upchurch]

Chris Evans got three carries and then sat for the day, in case you were wondering if he was a sure-fire starter. That's the same playing time De'Veon Smith got last year. Evans looked as shifty as he did a year ago but may have added some extra YAC power; hard to tell in that brief glimpse.

So instead of that let me tell you a thing about Evans: he coaches a local kids flag football team. This in and of itself is odd and very, very Harbaugh. An acquaintance of mine relates that his kid is in this flag football league, and that his game was at 7:15 in the morning, with a potential second game at 9:30 if his kids' team won. Chris Evans is at this game. Not because his team is playing—his team is the one waiting for the winner at 9:30. Chris Evans is... taking notes? Watching intently? Is Chris Evans, starting Michigan running back, scouting a flag football game at 7 in the morning? Yes. Yes he is.

One other Evans-related note: while he didn't participate in much of it, I'd be surprised if the frequent five-wide shotgun looks weren't related to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Hopefully Michigan gets on the good side of that McCray-Dalvin Cook go route matchup this year.

In Evans's absence we got a lot of Karan Higdon (12 carries to lead everyone), Kareem Walker, Ty Isaac, and walk-ons. Higdon and Isaac looked like Higdon and Isaac; both were the beneficiaries of the second-team DTs getting consistently gashed. I continue to like Higdon's combination of sharp cuts and low pad level and think he'll a productive #2. Isaac looks fine, but his touchdown was untouched and he didn't make a ton on his own. Walker didn't get a ton of opportunity he did have another run like he did last year where he bounced off some tackles to gain additional yards.

Your walk-on du jour here is Tru Wilson, who was quick through the hole and very small. Very little chance he breaks through the five scholarship guys who will be on campus this fall.

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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Black can go get it [Eric Upchurch]

The wide receivers are going to be young but that might not matter. Kekoa Crawford got a quick hook and can be penciled in as a starter. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black certainly look the part already. DPJ was held relatively in check by Keith Washington, and I'm already like "impressive job, Keith Washington" when he's been on campus for two years and DPJ has been on campus for two months.

Black played the part of Guy Opposite Dennis Norfleet on O'Korn's touchdown drives, running the same fade over and over against Benjamin St-Juste for completions and flags. Black is bouncy, 6'4", and adjusts well to balls in the air. He's all right. Meanwhile, Brandon Brown got a shot of Nico Collins veritably looming on the sidelines.

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The guy behind him to the right is 6'2" Brad Hawkins. Collins is huge. Collins, Black, DPJ, and Hawkins are a veritable fleet of catching-radius guys who can go get contested balls and make quarterbacks right. That is one recruiting class. Also they got Oliver Martin. I'd managed to forget how ridiculous this WR class was.

In the slot, Eddie McDoom was doing McDoom things before an apparently ankle injury knocked him out. On replay that injury didn't seem too bad: there was no plant or twist. Ankle injuries generally don't keep guys out months and months, so he's probably going to be fine this year. Here's hoping, because I don't want to disappoint this guy.

Curse everything in the world that prevents us from selling that.

Also in the slot was walk-on Nate Schoenle, who was on the receiving end of Peters's best throws of the day. One was a tough diving catch on the game-winning drive. At 6'2" Schoenle gives you downfield ability a lot of slots lack and Peters is clearly comfortable with him; I mentioned him as a guy generating buzz before the game and he'll generate more of it now. Nate Johnson didn't get a target, IIRC. Schoenle looks like a real threat for slot PT.

[UPDATE: Johnson did make a catch, fumbling as he fought for extra yardage.]

So with all that it's getting late early for Drake Harris and Moe Ways. Harris did not participate, and for a guy with his injury history facing down this wide receiver class that is tough. Ways did play but not until the second half when the rotation was getting deep indeed. Two of his plays were questionable, as well. He ran a four yard route on third and five; he messed up his footwork so badly on a back-shoulder fade that both of his feet were out of bounds on a potential touchdown. (Ambry Thomas got hit with a flag for holding him, FWIW.)

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Eubanks looks the part now [Patrick Barron]

At tight end Nick Eubanks appears to have made a move. He looks like a tight end now, which is step one. He was also targeted frequently. Michigan only found middling success doing so; the sheer number of balls he saw implies he's been making plays this spring. Here he only almost made a play, dropping a tough fade route from Peters after executing a textbook Manningham slow-and-extend to wall off the safety he'd gotten over the top of.

As a recruit Eubanks was regarded as a crazy athlete who needed seasoning. He's probably a year away from delivering on that athleticism; he certainly looks the part now.

Zach Gentry, meanwhile, both does and does not. Does he look like a tight end? No.

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no [Bryan Fuller]

Does he look like Jeff Samardadjzijaadfh? Kind of. Except tall!

That's a busted coverage and not exactly black-belt receivering but just look at the guy and his long loping strides and ability to shake enough to put not-Kovacs on his butt. Spring reports frequently noted that Gentry fielded a ton of targets, and sure if I'm a quarterback I'll look for the guy who puts Jake Butt's catching radius to shame. I feel a Funchess move coming on.

Ty Wheatley Jr is Michigan's sole remaining Kaiju, and that makes me sad. When I checked out his blocking that made me happy, though. He had another of his catches where he looks implausibly fast for a large man, and with Asiasi's departure he's going to get a ton of PT; he's Michigan's top blocking TE by a mile now and he brings a two-way ability that could be lethal. Just has to develop a bit.

Offensive line

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if Runyan could be a real RT candidate that would be nice [Bryan Fuller]

The spring game format seemed designed to keep the defensive line from annihilating everyone and succeed in that regard. The starting line, or close to it, was kept together; the backups mostly got Michigan's second-team DL. And while those second-team DTs are huge alarm bells, that's another post.

This is for this post: I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of defenders swallowing a tailback two yards in the backfield. Setting aside five yards lost when Kareem Walker unwisely decided to reverse field, Michigan backs were TFLed for a total of six yards. That means that the OL was getting its assignments right virtually the whole day. I don't expect that when one OL is playing deep into the regular season; for two to mostly get it right in spring, with all the rotation they've been doing, is impressive. Steve Lorenz keeps bringing up the Ewing Theory in relation to the OL departures...

3. I'm sticking with my Ewing Theory belief on the offensive line's potential in 2017. Ace Anbender at MGoBlog picked out former PWO Andrew Vastardis as a guy who stood out today and I'm inclined to agree. Vastardis was one of three or four PWOs last cycle the staff believed would, not could, be a difference maker sooner rather than later. He's not going to start this season, but he was a good indicator that a lot of guys have improved this off-season. Cesar Ruiz is ready. The pieces still need to be shuffled out, mainly at right tackle, but holes were paved consistently today.

...and I can see that. If Michigan can field a line that doesn't have a guy who runs by first-level defenders on the regular that would be good for their YPC and my blood pressure.

Your starter-ish line was: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with Cesar Ruiz and Andrew Vastardis from the second unit impressing both myself and Ace. Given the context...

...we shouldn't anoint the guy as Glasgow 4.0 just yet. Straight up dominating some bad players is a good first step, and he did that. Most of Michigan's big runs came when the second-team DL got caved in by the second-team OL.

Also in walk-ons I'd love to get lucky on: ominously-named Greg Robinson has plausible size at 6'6" 290, per a yet-to-be-updated roster, and played a bunch at left tackle. He got blown up on a couple runs and did not seem nearly as fluid as Vastardis.

Ruiz got some run at guard in the second half, FWIW, but Bredeson never kicked out to tackle. These things seem to be contradictory since the OL with Ruiz at guard necessarily has Bredeson at RT. Michigan either 1) thinks Bredeson can't play tackle, 2) thinks he needs all the time at guard he can get to get ready for the season, or 3) thinks a guy on the roster is a capable RT. That latter could be Bushell-Beatty, who we did not see because of injury, or Runyan. Your author is guessing that #2 is the truthiest here, after Bredeson's understandably error-prone freshman year.

Blitz pickups were pretty bad; unclear if that was a tailback issue or a QB issue or an OL issue. Probably some of all three. Blitz pickups in spring against Don Brown and squat missile dude Devin Bush were always going to be a problem. They are a problem. It would only be notable if they were not a problem.

Unverified Voracity Cusses Em Out

Unverified Voracity Cusses Em Out

Submitted by Brian on August 5th, 2016 at 12:19 PM

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[Eric Upchurch]

One of these coordinators is not like the other. A few days ago Athlon talked about Don Brown in one of those anonymous coach quote articles:

“BC’s defense last year was the biggest pain for us to prepare for because they did so many things, especially on third down. The fronts they lined up in, the pressures they came with were unique, and they had some big, physical players. They were legit.”

Yesterday was the Big Ten's turn and DJ Durkin came up in the Michigan section:

They were pretty bland from a defensive standpoint. They’ll be very different schematically than with [D.J.] Durkin, but Don Brown is really good at what he does. Brown does a bunch of different things, but they wouldn’t let you throw posts last year in a league where people have thrown posts for 25 or 30 years, and I don’t think that will change.”

Durkin persisted in the no-posts D even when the opposition wasn't inclined to throw them and was very good at other things; my issue with the late slide last year was that Michigan didn't have a backup plan when one-high man free wasn't working. Brown will run a lot of the same stuff Durkin does. He likes man coverage, he runs a bunch of plays with one high safety. But he also runs a ton of cover two. That'll give Michigan a larger base from which to pick and choose when they get yo-yoed from an Iowa offense to OSU or Indiana.

As we talked about a bit in yesterday's mailbag, there are costs involved with the added complexity. There does appear to be an adjustment period for Brown—his year one defenses didn't improve much from their baselines. The hope is that those costs are borne against teams that don't football good and that Michigan's defense can reach a level above where they were last year by the time the MSU/Iowa/OSU road games come along.

The rest of that article will not surprise. Greg Mattison and Jourdan Lewis are good; Harbaugh is intense:

“They were a good team last year, but what they really did well is they played really hard and had a lot of pride. There’s a little (bit) of coach speak in that, but when you watched them on the field, how they lined up and communicated and the intensity they had on the sideline, it was really impressive.”

Maybe don't put the coachspeak bit in your noncoachspeak article, but there is a point in there about sideline organization.

I have good news for whichever coach said this about MSU:

“Offensively they’ll be fine. Connor Cook was good, but those receivers — they were unbelievable. They made contested catch after contested catch and attacked the football.”

The only WR with more than seven catches who returns is RJ Shelton, who is not Aaron Burbridge.

And this just emphasizes how bizarre the Mike Riley hire was:

“It’s not really a rebuild, it’s more of a teardown. They’re playing one style with players who were recruited for a totally different offense, so it’s just how many steps backward they have to take before they go forward.”

Riley is 63. If they even manage to make this transition he'll be done the moment it is. Yeah, maybe I am bitter because versions of Nebraska that don't rely on a running quarterback feel weird and wrong to me. But, I mean, cumong man.

Baylor again. Events in Waco continue to verge on the unbelievable:

Baylor offensive lineman Rami Hammad -- arrested on felony stalking charges Monday -- was accused last fall of sexually assaulting a student and violating a university-issued no-contact order after confronting the woman, Outside the Lines has learned.

Hammad is facing felony stalking charges after his former girlfriend reported several instances from March to July in which he tracked her down, harassed her and twice physically assaulted her, including once at Baylor's athletic facilities on campus.

Much of this occurred after Art Briles's firing and Ken Starr's resignation; if Baylor was ever going to take this stuff seriously it would be in the immediate aftermath of a huge public scandal. Survey says "nope." It took a literal felony arrest for a suspension to occur here.

Speaking of Baylor. Outgoing Cofopoff committee members explicitly state that Ohio State's epic beatdown of Wisconsin was the deciding factor when it came time to choose between OSU, TCU and Baylor in 2015:

Mike Tranghese: Without question, yes. That was the debate for the last five weeks of the year. We probably spent more time just discussing Baylor and TCU but then in the end, Ohio State just played very well at the end, and the way they dominated Wisconsin in the end, the championship game really took the pressure of making that decision out of our hands.

Osborne: That was a difficult one. I think the thing that was, as was mentioned many times, when you have a team that plays that 13th game against a supposedly good opponent and you win 59-0, decisively, then not having that championship game certainly was a factor to be considered. No question TCU and Baylor were really good teams and it was close, but it's hard to turn your back on somebody that wins their conference championship by 59-0.

If Michigan should be so fortunate to be in a position to run up the score in Jim Harbaugh's tenure, any questions about that approach should be fielded with a link to this article. Harbaugh should literally say "www dot espn dot com slash college dash football slash story slash underscore slash id slash one seven one seven two six one nine slash college dash football dash playoff dash committee dash members dash takeaways dash their dash first dash two dash years" if challenged.

Remember the name. Walk-on OL Andrew Vastardis has been repeatedly mentioned by Steve Lorenz as a guy to keep an eye on as a potential contributor down the road. He's certainly got the size; here he's standing next to Ben Bredeson:

That is a large gentleman.

Football coaches, man. Tom Herman on specific cultural reasons why going for it on fourth down is frowned upon by football coaches:

"You'd be surprised how many staffs I've been on or seen where the head coach will tell the offensive coordinator to go for it on fourth and 4 or from the 11, and they don't get it," Herman said, "and the defensive coordinator's over there mother-fuckin' em or cussin' 'em out."

I am a Big Ten football fan. I would not be surprised, sir. Not surprised at all.

Etc.: ESPN ranks Jabrill Peppers the #9 player in CFB and Jourdan Lewis #19. Jake Butt is #54. Lewis, Peppers, and Butt are 6, 7, and 9 in the Big Ten per ESPN. No Michigan DL make it because this is a journalist's list that's counting numbers or bust.  Croots like Jordan. Beilein recruits like a Werther's Orginal: slow and sweet.