|Taylor Lewan||So.*||Ricky Barnum||Jr.*||David Molk||Sr.*||Patrick Omameh||Jr.*||Mark Huyge||Sr.*|
|--||--||Chris Bryant||Fr.||Rocko Khoury||Jr.*||Elliot Mealer||Jr.*||Michael Schofield||So.*|
Readers are advised to follow the same procedure as they might for the defensive line: look at the soothing, soothing starters and not the precarious dropoff—this time including a true freshman and non-entity "Dash Dash"—immediately after them.
Here the fainting should be kept to a minimum. Michigan returns four starters, inserts a well-regarded redshirt junior into the open slot, and ran for a crapton of yards last year. And the depth isn't all that bad. At various times new offensive line coach Darrell Funk has expressed a desire for seven or eight guys who are ready to play. That's how many they have: seven or eight, depending on which way the wind is blowing about Elliot Mealer today.
While not having a backup at left tackle looks ominous, in the event Lewan is forced off the field Michigan will just rearrange some guys and pull Schofield onto the field. The coaches have proclaimed their faith in both Schofield and Khoury, so Michigan won't get to serious collar-puling time until the third injury/suspension/abduction. Even that would likely bring a redshirt junior out of mothballs.
They'll be okay this year. The depth bomb hits next year as Khoury and Schofield draw into the starting lineup, leaving just Mealer and a horde of redshirt or true freshman behind the starters, including zero (0) backup tackles who won't be going to prom in a few months. At least those backups are backed by panting recruiting rankings. But that's for another season preview.
This season preview is concerned with the above offensive line and how well it will transition to MANBALL downhill running. It's not that they don't know how to do this. Here's the line doing this:
This is the third time I've pulled a different gap-blocked play from last year to claim they can pull, so… yeah, they can pull. (FWIW, that is not Power O but Down G.) If you don't believe me, believe Mark Huyge:
"Last year, our primary play was outside zone, and this year it's coming at you. Really, they're not that much different. We ran the power last year, so we knew the footwork already, basically. [Offensive line coach Darrell] Funk tweaked us here and there a little bit. But it's just doing it more often."
Taylor Lewan also dismisses the idea the new offense incorporated anything he wasn't being taught a year ago:
"We have the same plays … Instead of an outside zone we might run a lead zone."
The issue is what happens when power goes from a constraint play designed to keep the defense honest to the bread and butter designed to make the defense cheat. The conventional wisdom is that power requires massive road graders a la the Wisconsin offense while the zone game requires guys who, while big compared to civilians, are less likely to annihilate a tackle one-on-one than dance their way into an advantageous position. Boy howdy can these guys do that.
They can do the other stuff when opponents are expecting an outside zone. Can they make it the base? And can they pass protect well enough to open up a full pro-style route tree? Well, we just don't know, Dude.
Rating: 4 of 5
Taylor Lewan started getting hyped up as the next Jake Long as soon as he committed. That hype never waned until Lewan managed to start his RS freshman year on the bench behind Mark Huyge.
That dip was brief. Lewan forced his way into the starting lineup by the second half of the UMass game and quickly established himself as a man who perceives men in other football uniforms as donkeys and himself as the last survivor of a species destroyed by donkeys. Result:
|hate you, donkey|
|donkeyed DT plus LB|
|caves in Clayborn|
|Ogbu through endzone|
|mobility matches Martez|
|enjoy 0 tackles Clayborn|
|goodbye PSU DE|
|reads scrape, adjusts(!)|
|not so good|
|gets QB pwned|
That was pretty exciting, and when he turned Adrian Clayborn off in the Iowa game the Jake Long hype hit fever pitch. Not even Long had started at left tackle as a freshman. Then Lewan took sixteen straight holding or false start penalties and harshed everyone's buzz good and proper.
This happened in the same game…
After the third Lewan penalty Michigan Stadium was ready to throttle the guy. It would have taken most of the stadium to do so, but the "AWWWWWWWWW" coming from the stands suggested it was possible.
He's good. The Clayborn line: one solo tackle, two assists, a half sack on the last desperate Michigan drive. Last year Clayborn had 70 tackles, 20 for loss, and 11.5 sacks. Against Penn State earlier this year Clayborn had ten tackles, three TFLs, and a sack. He's a holy lock first-rounder, and Taylor Lewan all but erased him. …
That was a star-making performance. Lewan == Long has gone from optimistic ceiling to serious possibility.
…and Lewan established himself as the Mouton of the offense. He continued to sabotage Michigan drives with false starts and holds the rest of the year; when he wasn't doing that he was all but impenetrable.
He's not dumb. He knows he's got one big thing to work on:
"Last year, I had a lot of penalties and that's one of the main things I've tried to work on," he said. "My biggest problem was the penalties, absolutely. Everybody saw that. My biggest thing is to focus on that, stay onsides, stay aggressive between the whistles and not after.
"(But) I'm not trying to tone down the aggressiveness, because the offensive line, I feel, should be one of the most aggressive on the field. Have a defensive mentality on the offensive line."
The Mouton comparison is ominous since we just watched that guy start for three years without getting any better, but Lewan hasn't suffered at the hands of poor coaching yet and won't in the future. This should be the year he drops the crazy hot girl act and establishes himself as an All Big Ten left tackle. He'll still be a little penalty-prone but it will be worth it.
|wipes out Lloyd|
|could do better on S|
|decent at POA|
|washes scraper out|
|again washes scraper out|
|pulls a bit|
|down G LB|
|can't maintain block|
Opposite Lewan, Mark Huyge is barely holding on for the third straight year. A who-dat recruit Michigan snatched away from the MAC in the first year of Mike DeBord's zone transition, Huyge's done well for himself to be a sort of kind of three year starter.
That hasn't prevented him from losing his job over and over. Two years ago it was a rotating cavalcade of missed blocks at right tackle as Huyge swapped with Perry Dorrestein and got sucked inside to play guard in David Molk's absence. Late in the year Patrick Omameh emerged at right guard and Huyge was finally exiled to the bench.
Last year it was Lewan bursting onto the scene. Huyge popped up from time to time when Lewan's penalties were too infuriating for Rodriguez and when Dorrestein's back injuries cropped up again. He was okay, his pass blocking issues covered up by the offense and Denard, his rushing numbers usually a little bit above zero.
This year he's in another "dogfight," this one with redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield and, oddly, Omameh. Funk:
“Mark’s played all over the place, been a starter at three different positions. He’s set himself up to have a great senior year,” Funk said. “He’s a great kid, great with the young kids. He defers to Dave [Molk] in the leadership role, but they are both seniors who are always both counted on to be leaders. He’s playing right guard and right tackle, has that flexibility that he could play left tackle if we need him.
“I’m happy with how Mark is doing. It’s a little dogfight between him and Patrick [Omameh] and Michael Schofield, who is doing a nice job."
I hope that's just a motivational device for Omameh, who needs to get better against elite DTs but… well… more on him later.
Huyge has the lead for now, so he goes here. I wouldn't be surprised if some pass blocking issues crop up and give Schofield a shot at the job—Huyge has never been able to hold off elite rushers. The difference between him and Lewan in that Iowa game was stark:
…the Huyge/Lewan battle [was] resolved in the exact same way the Demens/Ezeh battle was: by some Iowa guy running over the backup. In Ezeh's case this was Iowa OL Julian Vandevelde. In Huyge's it was Adrian Clayborn.
Huyge wasn't terrible but when you play a third of a game and you don't get a single +/- on the run chart you're being avoided to some extent and just doing okay at when you're not. He got a –4 in pass protection; Lewan has a –3 in twice the time. Lewan was +7 on the ground, tied with Denard for the best score.
He'll be better, and he'll be needed unless the line miraculously skates through the season without injury. I'm just not sure he'll be the first choice at tackle when the Big Ten schedule rolls around, because...
Schofield and… Schofield
The aforementioned Michael Schofield is it, man. Jake Fisher's post-firing defection to Oregon and Tony Posada's instant exit leave Schofield the only scholarship tackle on the roster who's not, like, starting, man. That's not good.
At least Schofield was a consensus four star who picked Michigan over Notre Dame back when all our OL recruits belonged to Weis. He's spent a couple years bulking up and is now the obvious #6 offensive lineman:
"Schofield would be a top back-up if we started today ... but he could easily be a starter. He’s playing most days at a starter level. His big deal is he’s inconsistent, and that’s the whole group. We’ve got go make sure we’re consistently good.”
Huyge's flexibility will allow Michigan to flip Schofield onto the field if anyone other than Molk goes down. He's likely to start a few games in preparation for a full time role in 2011… unless he rips the job away from Huyge right now.
Given the way Huyge's career has gone and the general vibe coming from camp chatter and Funk's public statements, that's a strong possibility. Huyge's never been much of a pass blocker and Michigan's offense is going to require quite a bit more of that as Robinson starts making more and more five and seven step drops.
There's no one else thanks to Rodriguez's failures in the 2010 class and The Process. A discussion of the walk-on options would be pointless since in the event two tackles explode Michigan will flip Barnum (who played LT last year on the second team) or Omameh (who was widely regarded as the tackle of the future before he was needed as the guard of the present) outside and bring in Khoury.
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
This would be a five if Rich Rodriguez was still around. I've been badgering people about how awesome David Molk is since he was a redshirt freshman; Patrick Omameh's full-season debut was not quite spectacular but promised it right quick; Ricky Barnum is a touted recruit who's hitting the field as a redshirt junior. All were prepped to reach-block the living daylights out of opponents this year.
Now I'm not so sure. I think they'll still be pretty good, but worry that their strength is not their strength, if you know what I mean. I think they'll end up running a lot of zone blocking, whether it's by choice or hard lesson.
Your starting center for the fourth straight year is MGoBlog fave-rave David Molk. He drops f-bombs in press conferences, openly disdains stupid questions, and frequently makes the toughest block in football look easy. I love David Molk. This is what he does:
That was against freshman Akeem Spence but here's one of a few ass-kickings he handed veteran Penn State DT Ollie Ogbu:
|reach destroys you|
|a tough seal|
|a classic stretch|
|execute the scoop|
|another textbook scoop|
|lewanesque donkey hating|
|latches onto the NT|
Sometimes he joins Taylor Lewan in his donkey hating campaigns. He's getting a little All-America hype, and I think he could deserve more: CBS has him on the second team behind OSU's Mike Brewster. If my OSU blog interpretation is correct I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a Buckeye fan who wouldn't complain about the frustrating lack of dominance from their OL.
Molk is the perfect spread 'n' shred center, a major reason Michigan put up an unprecedented-this-millennium 5.6 YPC last year. If he's got weaknesses they apply to the transition he may or may not have to make.
While it's usually guards who end up pulling in gap-blocked rushing attacks, having a center who can do likewise is an asset. It opens up extra possibilities. Molk has the agility for that sort of thing but it seems like the act of pulling right after you've snapped the ball is one of those things you have to practice a ton to get right. Molk's spent his time doing other things. Additionally, when Molk takes on a DT with the intent of blowing him off the ball he's almost always doubling with an intent to peel off after a scoop. If he's asked to go one-on-one with bigger guys that might not go so well.
That is admittedly me trying to find a concern. David Molk is great. You can never tell which interior linemen are going to be up for postseason awards but I'll be incensed if he's not All Big Ten after a healthy year. I think he'll be a Rimington finalist.
in space, where he belongs
Returning next to Molk is redshirt junior Patrick Omameh. Omameh broke into the stating lineup at the tail end of his freshman year and immediately displayed an agility I'd never seen in a Michigan guard before. Last year he built on that. You know what I am about to embed, but are you sick of it? No, you are not sick of it.
|completely plows Te'o|
|finishes the job|
|seals and pancakes the DT|
|controls, then destroys DE|
|kicks out Reyes|
|dominates the playside DT|
|combo onto LB|
|Clayborn in space|
|Te'os a PSU LB|
That was no fluke. He did the same thing to the same epic linebacker later in the game, did it to Penn State, did it to Adrian Clayborn, did it to a lot of people. If you get Patrick Omameh to the second level he is liable to turn an opposing linebacker into a safety-destroying club.
His weakness was a lot more obvious than Molk's, though: he had a lot of trouble with beefy, high quality DTs. He actually picked up a negative in the opener against UConn due to his struggles with Kendall Reyes…
He didn't exactly lose out, but as the only guy on the line anywhere near even he stood out as a sophomore. UConn's Kendall Reyes was a problem all day, bursting into the backfield on the Shaw ten-yard loss and causing most of the bounce-outs. Sometimes this just happens. I remember Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones doing a lot of damage, pointing out how good he was, and hoping this was true both for credibility and what it said about Michigan's offensive line. Jones eventually went in the second round of the NFL draft. I both think and hope Reyes is really good, headed for All Big East recognition. If not, Omameh has a lot of work to do.
…and had a rough day against Corey Liuget ("when he did get Liuget he struggled … Many times Schilling or Omameh had not been able to keep pace with that spring into the backfield [that Molk did.]")
There are worse things. Reyes did end up first team All Big East. Liuget was a first-round pick over the summer and Reyes may be one next year. A lot of players have bad days against them. But that is a downside that will be relevant this year when Michigan sees Jared Crick and John Simon roll into town. It'll help out immensely if Omameh can stand up to them mano-a-mano. I'm not sure if that will happen unless the zero extra pounds he's credited with is gamesmanship, which has been rumored. That seems like an obvious rationalization to me.
Omameh's lack of out-and-out POWER to run POWER, his agility, and Lewan's donkey-hating ways mean that when Michigan does use POWER to run POWER they are going to be heavily left-handed. Remember when the first play of every game was zone left over Jake Long for two yards? I'm hoping Borges isn't as predictable as Mike "The Avalanche" DeBord, but the breakdown of left-right might be similar to 2007.
As for Omameh's performance, he should get towards the fringe of All Big Ten. They spread these things out amongst linemen and Lewan and Molk are ahead in the pecking order so he probably won't get it; I don't think he'll necessarily deserve it but he won't be far off.
Ricky Barnum is the line's only newcomer. He'll fill in for the departed Steve Schilling. As a backup offensive lineman we don't know much about him; his only appearances on the field to date have been in uncharted garbage time. We do know he was a touted recruit who backed out of a Florida commitment to follow Rich Rodriguez north—which, wow, dude, that's a hell of a decommit.
He's gotten good reviews from insidery types for the bulk of his career, and these have spread to his coaches and teammates as he prepares for the big stage:
Barnum, a junior, however has received rave reviews from Funk and his teammates. Funk described him as most improved from last spring, and Lewan said he's been playing like an experienced, fifth-year senior.
In classic offensive lineman form, Barnum laughed off the praise and spoke about the big picture.
"It's not what I've done," Barnum said. "It's what we do as a team. We worked really hard in the offseason, and we're dedicated. We want to get better as a group."
"Ricky keeps making tremendous strides," Huyge said. "The kid works really hard. I know in spring ball, he took a lot of reps, and that helps, and he's come a long way, as well."
Borges makes him sound a lot like the guy on the other side of the line:
On Barnum: "Ricky is as athletic as anyone on our line. Ricky is a tough guy." Biggest problem is that he's a little underweight, but he's gotten stronger, doesn't get pushed around, and "looks like a back out there sometimes when he runs."
"Underweight" in this case is 292; "looks like a back out there sometimes" is like looking in the Omameh mirror. File this under yet more evidence they're going to have to remain a primarily zone team the next couple years.
The only issue with his acquisition of the starting job is that he didn't have to fight too hard for it. Rocko Khoury and Elliot Mealer are the only plausible alternatives. While Khoury did an admirable job against Iowa, he's primarily a center. Beating out just one guy means you're necessarily more of a risk than someone who emerged from a thicket of a depth chart with a machete in his teeth.
The one thing that might hold him back early is injury. As of a couple weeks ago he was held out of the punting demo because of a knee issue. He still dressed, so it can't be too serious. He seems to have dumped the brace in recent photos; he'll probably be just fine.
Khoury against Iowa; Elliott with brother Brock
|doubles w/ Schilling|
|shoves on DT|
|not quite omameh|
|shed on second level|
There are only two before you get down to walk-ons and freshmen. Rocko Khoury is the only one who won't cause some hyperventilation. When Molk was knocked out for the Iowa game last year he stepped in and performed ably. Most of the clips at right are Khoury doubling DTs with Schilling, which isn't the toughest job in the world. He does display a bit of ability on the second level; he does not reach someone into oblivion.
If Khoury draws in it will be a downgrade since he's not likely to do any of the exciting Molkomamehwan things I embedded above. It won't be a disaster. Michigan averaged 4.5 YPC in his start against the #6 rush defense in the country, almost a yard and a half better than Iowa gave up against the rest of their schedule. They'll live if he plays.
Redshirt junior Elliot Mealer is the sole other non-freshman option. That qualifier is probably unnecessary since the freshmen are either 340 or 270 pounds—he's the last line of defense between Michigan and someone totally unprepared to play in the Big Ten. The coaches clearly have him behind Khoury and Schofield and while they do make encouraging noises about him from time to time…
Elliott Mealer and Rocko Khoury are vying for back-up positions on the interior line, ‘right on the cusp’ but depth guys right now, Funk added.
…the overall impression is that they'd like to avoid having him on the field just yet. He's still much better than the alternatives.