back back back back not back (but there's another guy also back) [Bryan Fuller]
|Mason Cole||So.||Ben Braden||Jr.*||Graham Glasgow||Sr.*||Kyle Kalis||Jr.*||Erik Magnuson||Jr.*|
|Logan Tuley-Tillman||So.*||David Dawson||So.*||Patrick Kugler||So.*||Blake Bars||Jr.*||Juwann Bushell-Beatty||Fr.*|
It got better. It really did. The OL nadir is in the past. We can come out of the bunker and rebuild society now.
By any reasonable metric it in fact got a lot better. Michigan's YPC leapt 1.3 yards, going from 11th in a 12-team league to 8th in a 14-team one. If you only look at Big Ten stats Michigan is still 8th, and that's in the division that had the MSU, OSU, and PSU defenses. Sacks allowed had a near-identical improvement, going from barely better than Purdue to a spot in the respectable midsection of the conference. Advanced stats saw something similar. Michigan finished 50th in adjusted line yards*, 32nd in power success rate, and 72nd in adjusted sack rate. And that's with the running backs going the wrong direction constantly.
None of these numbers stand out, but neither do they linger in the seedy parts of the list next to Temple and Penn State and Louisiana-Monroe. They were average-ish. Most of the time they felt average-ish.
That's not a bad place to be with zero seniors and just two upperclassmen. While the unexpected departure of Jack Miller puts a small dent in the front's depth, his likely replacement, Erik Magnuson, is a redshirt junior who came in as a touted recruit and has a season's worth of starts to his name already. If you're willing to fudge a bit, Michigan has five starters back from that okay line. They've replaced Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh and Darrell Funk with Tim Drevno.
Could they be… good?
*[A stat that weighs the first few yards you get heavily and discounts long runs in an attempt to get a feel for how the line is doing.]
Cole coped [Eric Upchurch]
Rating: 3 of 5
Last year I gave this a 1 because Michigan was staring down a starting lineup consisting of a true freshman and a third-year guy who didn't even get a sniff during the chaos of 2013. They seemed to acquire these positions almost by default since the only other tackles on the roster were freshmen (redshirt or true) regarded as huge projects. Or they were starting at guard.
The 2014 edition of this post took a quick gander at what happened when football teams started freshman tackles. It was almost universally ugly. The best case scenario was Ole Miss, which deployed ultra-blue-chip Laremy Tunsil as a true freshman and was middling in both YPC and sacks allowed. All others trundled their way to seasons that were more or less disastrous.
Michigan was not disastrous last year. In what is certainly a first for offensive line projections in recent history, that prediction was pessimistic. MASON COLE, the true freshman, just about hit the top end of reasonable projections, those being:
The occasional freshman tackle can cope. I think Cole is one of those guys. But is he going to blow a guy off the ball and provide a big ol' lane at 292 pounds? Probably not. Our hope here is that Cole is a solid, agile pass protector in year one who is a meh run blocker.
Mason Cole coped. This is what that looks like in the run game according to UFR:
|App St||9.5||2||7.5||A fine debut|
|Notre Dame||4||2||2||Didn't seem overwhelmed at all.|
|Miami||8||5||3||Okay; also had one very bad pass pro.|
|Utah||3||2.5||0.5||Nice seal block ignored.|
|Rutgers||5||5||0||I'll take it.|
|Penn State||1.5||5||-3.5||Hull and Zettel bad matchup.|
|Minnesota||4.5||2.5||2||Overpowered a little but still okay day.|
|Indiana||3||0.5||2.5||Didn't mess anything up.|
It was rougher in pass protection, where I have had him for 16 protection minuses in 8 games. Those are worth about half a QB pressure/sack each. Otherwise things were pretty okay against non-elite defenses. Cole's debut season was… eh.
When it didn't go well, the usual reason was that Cole got blown backwards because he was a true freshman. These were the kind of things that were happening against Zettel and company:
This was a game in which Cole's inexperience and lack of big skrongness really hurt. Here Butt gets an excellent shoulder spear on Zettel, knocking him off balance. This should provide ample opportunity for Cole to step around and wall Zettel off, creating a crease Smith will hit trying to beat a safety for a big gainer. Instead Zettel comprehensively wins:
Cole got whipped on the Norfleet catch that put Michigan in position for the winning field goal; Michigan was fortunate that ball went to the WR instead of getting knocked anywhere.
Ennui prevented me from charting him against Joey Bosa, but I've gone back and rewatched the OSU game. Cole was okay. By the second half of The Game Ohio State decided that they should either blitz outside of Bosa and send him against the interior line (which only kind of worked) or have him go at Ben Braden (which very much worked). Don't get me wrong, Cole did get beat. It was a struggle; it was not one in which he was completely overwhelmed.
All of that is terrific for a true freshman. Cole grabbed the job, held the job all season, and played reasonably well. There has been not a whisper that he would go anywhere except for a blip during spring practice when he was playing center, that because Glasgow was suspended and Michigan was figuring out if he could play there a la Barrett Jones. All practice reports have held that he is a sure thing, greatly improved, etc. 247 heard this from multiple people in a 24-hour window:
Mason Cole has unsurprisingly established himself as a rock at the left tackle spot, and is primed to be the next great four-year starter to play the position.
Cole's added 13 pounds and should make a major leap in year two, what with the rare true-freshman-to-true-sophomore OL transition coupled with the general HARBAUGH.
That will probably still leave him short of dominant. Michigan's most recent really good left tackle, Taylor Lewan, took off in his third year. In year two Cole should slash the protection issues considerably and do okay against the better defensive ends in the league. A year like early Graham Glasgow—reliable, somewhat short on raw power—would set Cole up to be excellent as an upperclassman.
[After THE JUMP: four-ish additional returning starters who happen to be upperclassmen already]
Magnuson (#78) returns to the flank [Fuller]
On the other side, Michigan moves ERIK MAGNUSON back to the tackle spot he was always supposed to occupy. Magnuson's had a weird career thus far. Touted as a natural left tackle out of high school, Magnuson has played mostly left guard; he's also made cameos at left tackle, right tackle, right guard and even tight end. He moves to right tackle this season, where he should remain for the remainder of his career unless he doesn't.
In 2013 Magnuson was a redshirt freshman who really needed weight thrown in during the maelstrom of chaos. He quickly established himself the best available option, though this was not to be confused with a good available option. Magnuson was listed at 285 and played like it.
"it was common to see [Magnuson] get his hands into a defensive tackle only for the DT to go "and?" as he drove Magnuson a yard or two backwards." –last year
Against all but the most deficient defensive lines Magnuson came in solidly negative in 2013.
After adding ten pounds he entered 2015 the starting left guard, maintaining that job for four games before an undisclosed injury made him unavailable for Minnesota. Glasgow shifted to his spot; by the time Magnuson was healthy again the coaching staff was loathe to disrupt an offensive line that was precariously okay. Eventually they issued him #81 and started using him as a blocking tight end.
As a result we don't have much to go on. His UFR from the first four games shows a guy who was very good at executing assignments against guys who aren't so good at football but struggled against big mean dudes. Magnuson suffered from some of the same inexperience the rest of the line did when running Nussmeier's preferred inside zone play, but even early in the year he was doing some nice things against blitzers:
The 2013 version of that play probably sees the linebacker blaze into the backfield. Magnuson's knowledge of what he should do and occasional inability to do it is well reflected in his UFR chart:
|App St||14||3.5||10.5||Reliable in assignments, still worry about power|
|Notre Dame||5.5||6||-0.5||Coping with Day is difficult.|
|Miami||10.5||4||6.5||IZ comboing looked good.|
|Utah||5||6.5||-1.5||The start of many struggles.|
Small and weak? Magnuson will execute against you. Sheldon Day? Hmm. On the other hand, just about breaking even against the ND and Utah lines isn't the worst thing for a sophomore and Magnuson did demonstrate major improvement from his freshman year.
Another improvement is on the way. Magnuson added 11 pounds on the recently-released roster and will be facing smaller, quicker dudes at tackle. That will mitigate remaining issues with power and hopefully allow him to demonstrate the skills that made him a consensus top 100 recruit out of high school:
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound left tackle prospect has the kind of athleticism, size and tenacity that make him a great option to protect a quarterback's blind side. Magnuson displays quick feet, long arms and excellent technique in his pass-pro sets, but can seal the edge on weak side running plays.
Ben Braden struggled as a pass protector a year ago; Magnuson has the ability to greatly improve Michigan's performance there. While he's probably not going to be the kind of road grader that power teams like to have at right tackle, the trajectory here is good. Magnuson got a lot better a year ago, has finally cracked 300 pounds, and seems to have a solid lock on a job that he has some competition for.
Magnuson should at least be reasonable. I think he'll have a minor breakout year (ie, one I notice and nobody else does) and enter 2016 a potential All Big Ten candidate.
If Michigan needs another tackle they may end up flipping their line around to bring in an interior guy. BEN BRADEN was the right tackle last year, of course, and could reprise that role in a pinch; GRAHAM GLASGOW looked comfortable at that spot in the 2014 spring game, though we haven't seen or heard anything about him playing tackle under Harbaugh. If Michigan thinks their best five minus Magnuson or Cole includes David Dawson or Patrick Kugler, that will be their move.
Tuley-Tillman and Bars are available. [Fuller]
If not, LOGAN TULEY-TILLMAN [recruiting profile] will get thrust into action. Tuley-Tillman came in for a modicum of hype this spring. During Glasgow's suspension Michigan futzed with Cole at center, and part of the reason why was a major improvement from Tuley-Tillman. Drevno was talking him up in spring:
“Logan has got really good feet and has done natural things with playing with his cleats in the ground that some people don’t have,” Drevno said. “He’s an athletic guy. He played AAU basketball growing up. He’s fleet-footed and he does some really, really nice things naturally.”
That and a drop in body fat from 31% to 21% are encouraging signs for a guy who came in as a boom-or-bust player.
Unfortunately, when the spring game rolled around Tuley-Tillman was generally overwhelmed. He picked up three no-question holding calls and did not look ready. In the aftermath, Ace captured the general feeling:
Given that some practice reports had him as a potential starter, it's hard not to be a little disappointed in Logan Tuley-Tillman's showing, which featured three flags and a couple olés. He was a major project coming of high school, to the point that this year was the earliest he could feasibly see the field, so it's not a devastating blow that he doesn't look ready yet. He has so much upside, though, that it would've been really encouraging to see him push into that starting five.
It looks like another season of refinement and adding strength is in the offing. If things go really well, Tuley-Tillman will push Cole inside during 2016 spring practice. For 2015 it's about putting himself in a position to take advantage of his prototypical left tackle frame.
Bars and Bushell-Beatty are sneaky hard to get photos of [Upchurch/Fuller]
At right tackle is a bit of a surprising name: BLAKE BARS [recruiting profile]. This is the second consecutive year a member of Michigan's coaching staff has brought him up apropos of little, and as a tackle. This year's edition:
"They’re right on task on where we need to be. We’re rotating a lot of guys in there. (Kyle) Kalis is having a good camp, Graham Glasgow is having a good camp. You look at some of the young guys like Blake Bars is really stepping up."
That and some spring performances that did not exactly stand out are all we have to go on for Bars. At 290 he's unlikely to get a ton of movement, but by the time Bars hits the field fans would just be hoping for a guy who doesn't implode the offense.
Redshirt freshman JUWANN BUSHELL-BEATTY [recruiting profile] was actually lining up at guard when the Big Ten Network swung by Michigan practice, with Bars outside of him. Long term he is still likely to be a tackle at 6'6", maybe 6'7". Like the other hyphenated guy, Bushell-Beatty was regarded as a terrific frame that needed a lot of work; another year learning and reshaping his body is in order.
True freshmen NOLAN ULIZIO [recruiting profile] and GRANT NEWSOME [recruiting profile] are locks to redshirt. Newsome, a top recruit with left tackle upside, could be unearthed if the walls cave in. That would require a truly biblical plague of injuries.
Rating: 4 of 5.
When Michigan resurfaced some of its players on Friday, it was KYLE KALIS who said the things that had everyone all a-titter:
"We're definitely grasping more of how to play the offensive line, technique, footwork, stuff that we never really would practice or have a knowledge of before. Coach Harbaugh is awesome. And the way [Drevno] coaches us, it's just working. We've had days where we're rolling guys 10 yards off the ball, and that never happened before. It's not that we couldn't do it, it's just we didn't know how to do it."
The internet immediately filled with people pointing and screaming "A-HA I KNEW IT," and, well yeah maybe. Tim Drevno has an impressive track record. Darrell Funk was probably doomed by Rich Rodriguez's decision not to recruit OL anymore no matter how good he was, but his track record is a Just A Guy track record. There could be a large coaching upgrade on the way.
Whether or not that's in fact the case, Kalis is on the verge of becoming a legit good Big Ten guard. By the end of the year he'd gotten the blast-and-go-hunting style of inside zone pretty much down. He was able to move people with the initial punch and then went and located second level defenders:
Against Ohio State guys like Cole and Braden frequently looked overwhelmed; Kalis pretty much went toe to toe with them.
What was most notable about the late season version of Kalis was not so much things like the clips above—inside zone doesn't lend itself to YOU GOT SERVED blocks—but the lack of their opposite. For years now I've watched first level defenders get mis-identified by the Michigan offensive line and blow through it. Those mistakes became significantly rarer as 2014 went along. Kalis in particular made plays there's no way the 2013 version of himself would, like this:
Kalis felt that guy to the outside of him and turned Rutgers's one weird trick to stop zone into a big gain.
He also started to do the kind of things we hoped he would when he was a five star recruit looming over some high school kid like the Death Star.
Kalis started moving guys last year, and cut down on the errors a great deal.
His pulls tended to be a bit bendy, but some guys coach them like that. He generally got there and was useful once he arrived.
He wasn't the quickest guy to the hole in the history of ever but when that became relevant it was usually because one of the tailbacks was running like he'd never run a power play before; meanwhile sometimes that delay allowed Kalis to evade a defender trying to get a two for one and get his block. Kalis ended up positive in every UFR except Penn State and performed well in the games that I didn't get around to for personal safety reasons.
Since Harbaugh's come in there's been every indication he is continuing down the path he started last season. Practice chatter generally cites Kalis, Glasgow, and Cole as the three sure things on the line; Kalis often comes in for things are clicking, he's Getting It, leadership fiesta type praise. 247:
Another player we continue to hear positive things about is redshirt junior Kyle Kalis. … he appears to be building a strong rapport with Tim Drevno and the belief is that he may be finally ready to take that next step in his development.
A large part of the skepticism about Kalis is because he was overhyped as a recruit—people were calling him the most college-ready OL in a decade, that kind of thing—and was thrust into the spotlight way too early. If we had just seen him last year people would be hyped about him.
Reasonable progress gets Kalis to upper-echelon Big Ten OL, if not quite elite. That seems to be on the docket.
Next to Kalis, GRAHAM GLASGOW returns to center after a year spent at left guard. Now entering his third season as as a starter, any thoughts of his walk-on past should be set aside. Glasgow has been Michigan's best and most consistent lineman for two years. Anonymous Big Ten opponent on the 2013 line:
"…their center [redshirt junior Graham Glasgow] was someone we took notice of.
"The guys next to him were a little slow, and you could split the gaps against them really easily. That was the point you attacked, but the center was strong. If you went one-on-one, he held his own. But you never had to do that because there was always that opportunity between the guards and center, and the guards and tackles."
While that might not be saying much, he projects to be that again in 2015.
I'm about to give you some clips, like I do. I pick out things that I feel are representative of what I've seen over the course of the season. The problem is that with offensive linemen it is really about seeing the consistent execution from down to down against all kind of different defensive attempts to trick, fool, befuddle, and bewilder a bunch of lunchpail types just trying to get their block.
No clip can convince you that Glasgow was Michigan's best lineman by some distance at this a year ago. I can throw some numbers at you, including the fact that in the MSU and PSU games I had him at +9 and –3 in UFR, numbers that no other Michigan OL touched—and if I cloned myself 13 times and did UFR for the entire Big Ten I'm willing to wager vanishingly few OL in the league would have managed it. Jack Allen, if Jack Allen had to play his own D, and an OSU guy or two, and probably Wisconsin's guys.
But anyway. Glasgow was proficient in the full suite of offensive line skills. He can reach guys and seal them away.
Now that he's back at center he's probably not going to pull much, but he was fine at it last year.
He has the athleticism to continue that should Harbaugh want to; since he loves screwing with opposing defenses he likely will.
I can point you to things he didn't do well, mostly inside zone stuff where he didn't make the right read when the opposition tried to screw with him; that is going to happen to everybody. All I can tell you is that the ratio of good things to bad with Glasgow was higher than anyone else on the team. Many of the things he did well weren't clipped because he didn't blast guys downfield like Taylor Lewan; he might get a yard of depth or hang on to a guy who threatens to shed him and get a half-point. But on those half-points are Stanford Heisman finalists made. Glasgow was consistent, and in OL land that's gold.
I expect that to continue. Glasgow should get some All Big Ten recognition if only because Michigan might have a good ground game and All Big Ten teams tend to reward seniors at low-stat positions; I think he'll play close to that level in his last rodeo.
[Oblig. Braden photo via Tim Sullivan, The Wolverine/Bryan Fuller]
The final and most precarious projected starter is BEN BRADEN, who spent all of last year at right tackle and then was promptly moved inside by Jim Harbaugh. Since the Hoke regime tried to do this earlier and seemingly decided he was a tackle and only a tackle this is worrisome, but I get it, man:
Braden was pretty clearly the weak link on the line last year and moving him inside might mitigate some of those issues.
That clip highlights one of the reasons Braden wasn't too effective last year: he tends to get off balance because he leans on people. This was clear from the drop, as the Appalachian State UFR addressed it:
I have never viscerally understood what scouting types mean when they say a guy is a "waist bender," but I think they're talking about gentlemen who play like Ben Braden did in this game.
When you bend your waist to go get a guy you are off balance. When that guy tries to shed you, you are all of a sudden leaning against air and you stumble or fall over. There was a lot of lurching forward from Braden in this game.
Against a team that actually has a force player losing that block gives them a free hitter in the hole. …
There's always some of that because you're trying to push a dude somewhere; with Braden it was really obvious that he was playing top heavy. Maybe going up against bigger guys will actually be helpful to him here, as he won't have to go find a 230-pound dude somewhere down there.
And here's a side by side comparison of Braden and Glasgow:
This early power play is instructive, as Braden and Glasgow draw identical assignments. They're supposed to down-block a defensive end slanting away from the play:
Glasgow remains upright, balanced over his center of gravity; Braden lunges, gets off balance, lurches upfield, and his guy goes right by. (To be fair to Braden, the slant was harder for him since the guy went from outside to inside instead of just further inside. Still, watch the relative balance of the two OL and feel the technique leaking into your brain because Braden's got issues obvious even to you and I.)
The lunging affected Braden against both run and pass. In the nine games UFRed last year Braden picked up 17 protection minuses—approximately equivalent to 8.5 sacks surrendered*. His inability to keep balanced and redirect when the opponent changes his path was even an issue against MAC opponents. Against the run he struggled to get up to even against Power 5 competition and often came in significantly negative.
Oddly, though, he seemed to do his best against Michigan's best opponents. Utah was a notable exception, but Braden scraped above zero against both PSU and MSU. (I did not UFR OSU, but I watched it. Braden did not get above zero against the Buckeyes.) The general hope for the kid is in there: the kind of things that get him into trouble get you into trouble against everybody, and when he does something well he has the physical ability to make it count. Here's that Taylor Lewan quote:
"Genetically, he's a freak. That's how it is. He's unbelievable. … He's the most physically gifted individual I've ever seen in my life. He's 322 pounds, 6-foot-7 and he has 12 percent body fat."
In this he's the opposite of Magnuson, who has been a highly reliable player who struggles physically.
This year Braden will be the most interesting test case for the hypothesis that Tim Drevno is a great OL coach. There is a ton of potential to unlock here. On the other hand, last year not so much. Braden is one of the proverbial X-factors on the team. I could try to tell you how he'll do but I don't even have a ballpark. Could be anywhere from benched to very good.
Depth on the interior isn't worryingly thin quite yet, but it's getting there. A series of unfortunate events has plundered the lower reaches of the OL depth chart, and blasted a chunk out of the top of it. Starting center Jack Miller forwent his fifth year in favor of a fancypants job in Chicago. Kyle Bosch's personal problems caused him to leave the team. Chris Fox's lack of football-rated knee ligaments forced him to retire. Dan Samuelson saw no path to the field and announced a transfer earlier this fall.
Kugler and Dawson wait in the wings [Fuller]
Michigan does have a couple of touted recruits with a couple years under their belts. Center PATRICK KUGLER [recruiting profile] is entering his third year as an understudy. A major recruit whose father was the Steelers' OL coach (he's now the head guy at UTEP), Kugler is as close to a sure thing as you can get on the OL. That is not very sure, but sooner or later he's going to be the center.
There hasn't been much chatter about him this fall; students at the open practice found out why when Kugler observed on crutches. Harbaugh's not much more open about injuries than Hoke was so we don't know what the issue is or how long he'll be out; hopefully he'll be healthy enough to be a factor this year.
In Kugler's absence the interior OL who's made a move is DAVID DAWSON [recruiting profile]. Dawson has been pressing Braden at left guard. He got in as part of the first team late in the open practice, and with Kugler laid up at least temporarily he's clearly the #6 OL. Dawson was a very well regarded guard prospect out of high school who sounds like Harbaugh's jam, man:
David Dawson is one mean cuss. The Michigan commit violently took it to sought after defensive lineman Joe Mathis in two easily won matches of tire tug-a-war. In 1-on-1s, he was a bully of an offensive lineman, going back and forth with Mathis and dominating nearly everyone else he faced. He delivers a good punch and has a great base. Has really reshaped his body from the season and is down 25 pounds to 280.
Dawson had a pile of scouting reports as positive—if less evocative—as that one, and then he disappeared from sight. Since he was a true freshman in 2013 and things went okay last year that's not a serious knock.
Whether you're excited about Dawson's weight, currently a pile-pushing 316, or worried that he went up 20 pounds in a single year is in the eye of the beholder. I'd lean to the former since most of that is probably good weight and Dawson's suddenly a guy practice chatter holds you should keep an eye on.
I would not be surprised if Dawson took Braden's job; neither would it be a surprise if Dawson ended up on the verge for the entirety of 2015.
BLAKE BARS could also figure in here if needed; he's played inside and out for the duration of his career.
Past that it's 275-pound true freshman JON RUNYAN JR [recruiting profile], a legacy recruit who projects to center in two or three years. Unless he's suddenly 304-pound freshman Jon Runyan Jr, as he's now listed on the depth chart. That kind of weight gain is not all productive mass; in any case a redshirt is assured.