|Jon Runyan Jr||Jr.*||Ben Bredeson||Jr.||Cesar Ruiz||So.||Mike Onwenu||Jr.||James Hudson||Fr.*|
|Jalen Mayfield||Fr.||Chuck Filiaga||Fr.*||Stephen Spanellis||So.*||Stephen Spanellis||So.*||Juwann Bushell-Beatty||Sr.*|
|Andrew Stueber||Fr*||Andrew Vastardis||So.*||Phil Paea||Fr.*||Joel Honigford||Fr.*||Nolan Ulizio||Jr.*|
PICKING UP THE PIECES from the very worst Michigan offensive line in living memory—you're off the hook, 2008—is going to be a difficult and unfortunately extended process. The mercifully fired Tim Drevno shot airballs at tackle in his first two recruiting classes, coming up with only flier Nolan Ulizio in Michigan's transition class; this is doubly painful since the only tackle who can block a Rutger recruited by Brady Hoke was Grant Newsome. Newsome will be your senator someday. He will not be on the field this fall, or ever again.
So even if the coaching transition from Drevno to Ed Warinner goes as blindingly well as DJ Durkin to Don Brown, this is going to be a survive-and-advance-down-the-field-a-bit situation. Warinner inherits some potential Dudes on the interior and has an excellent backup plan if something should go awry there. Tackle? Don't talk to me about tackle.
There is some good news. Michigan's late season surge on the ground was preceded by a couple of weeks where they were almost there...
The run game is close to putting it together. Unless they don't in which case I said none of this. But seriously folks: PSU was an average-ish P5 run defense and Michigan's blocking was pretty good, with gains held down by the nonexistent passing game and one guy blowing way too many plays.
... all in all it was probably the best run-blocking OL in Ann Arbor since 2011 or possibly even before. PFF graded out Ben Bredeson and Mike Onwenu at 72/100 or better despite what could not have been acceptable pass pro grades; those guys are legit good on the ground. Add in midseason revelation and locked-in starter Cesar Ruiz promising an organization upgrade at C plus an established elite college OL coach and the words "night" and "day" should be in your lexicon.
Just don't talk to me about tackle.
TACKLE: I TOLD YOU NOT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS
Fine! Fine. It's fine. We'll talk about it. Last year's preview featured this totally awesome GIF...
...and asserted that GIANT COMPUTER-ANIMATED QUESTION MARK [recruiting profile] would bookend Mason Cole. This year the question is who's bookending the Giant Computer-Animated Question Mark.
From the perspective of a program outsider just trying to read tea leaves, the worst case scenario was this: Michigan moves Juwann Bushell-Beatty to left tackle because they have no one else, and they insert Jon Runyan Jr at right tackle because they have no one else. No underclassmen even poke their head in the direction of the job. Michigan gets whatever marginal improvement JBB manages in his fifth year and plays a 6'3", maybe 6'4" guy on the other side.
This was exactly the situation as reported out of spring.
So it's with some relief that I can report this situation has changed slightly. They've slid Runyan over to left tackle, you see, and slid Bushell-Beatty back to the right. The deck chairs are repositioned.
[After THE JUMP: look nobody's paying you to read this, it's ok]
plz be daddish [Paul Sherman]
So. JON RUNYAN JR [recruiting profile]. Has the name, for sure. Has the size? Eh... we'll see. Runyan competed at right tackle last year and was actually the guy this space predicted would start. This was incorrect, but almost certainly should have been correct. It still says somethin' about somethin' that Runyan was not immediately and permanently distinguishable from Nolan Ulizio and Bushell-Beatty, especially the former.
Since Runyan was seemingly out of the RT battle Michigan moved him back inside; he semi-regularly spotted Onwenu early in the season, first when Onwenu started the Florida game with some wild misses, then again versus Air Force late—that one was seemingly about conditioning. Scattered snaps across a few more games got him a total of 8-2 = +6 in UFR, which should be taken in a garbage-time-against-Minnesota-and-Rutgers context, and then he finally got a start in the bowl game. With Bushell-Beatty out for undisclosed reasons, Runyan got the nod. He did not perform well in an offensive outing that was all-around gross. This is the only clip I had for him:
#75 RG pulling
Pretty good pull and kickout against a bad run D. The end.
But here he is. Sayin' stuff like this about true freshman Aidan Hutchinson:
“He’s a ginormous kid for being a freshman. He’s bigger than me. ... He gives me a couple fits every now and then, but I still got his number!”
This is our concern, Dude. Also in "our concern, Dude":
"If I can win eight out of 10 times against Rashan and Chase, I feel like I can do pretty well against anyone on our schedule.”
The law of large percentages multiplied a lot kicks in here: a line that has five guys executing at 80% gets it right 33% of the time. Not everyone on the schedule is going to have Michigan's DEs, but some are, including all of the most important games on the schedule; if that's the actual win rate things will not be going well.
Runyan has been locked in at a tackle spot since spring practice started, and while that is somewhat encouraging, the deck chairs event described above gives a fair amount of that back: high upside guys were on the left in spring but weren't panning out enough so the relatively steady, low-upside guy slides over because he's got a higher floor. Hypothetically good, until we start talking about the other floors. Runyan-related talk has been largely about his spot on the depth chart...
As things stand today, I feel very confident that Runyan would be the starter against Notre Dame at left tackle based on what I am told.
...while actual "this guy is good!" talk like you've seen about a number of WRs has been scanty, if it's even extant.
So what's the upside here? Well, Runyan is very mobile. He just about swept the OL section of Michigan's winter combine last year, finishing second in the one event he didn't win. In an ideal world that means he can get to the right spot on a pass set and hopefully not get run over; it also means that some of the Mason Cole tricks that Michigan's used to good effect—screens and offset draws and the like—over the past few years should also be within Runyan's toolbox.
And he's got the bloodline, and OL take a while to get there, and... he's got the bloodline. But what you're really banking on is an OL coaching transition from "Tim Drevno was actively sabotaging the program out of spite" to "Ed Warinner is a golden god." That and a Patterson-based offense obviating big chunks of what almost has to be bad pass protection.
I dunno, man. I want to believe but not even the talk is trying to make me, you know? How far can someone come in one year? Can they come from behind Nolan Ulizio and Juwann Bushell-Beatty to become an average Big Ten starter? It seems like the answer is no. But let's hope otherwise.
run blocking: good [Patrick Barron]
On the right, well... Michigan lined up JUWANN BUSHELL-BEATTY with the rest of the starting OL when running drills at the open practice and per insider reports he will start against Notre Dame. This space does not think that decision will last, and if it does that bodes extremely unwell. Bushell-Beatty was the presumed starter at RT last year when Ulizio popped up out of nowhere and ascended to the starting spot. That went about as poorly as can be imagined.
When Ulizio got yanked halfway through the Michigan State game, Bushell-Beatty immediately demonstrated why Michigan had called the Ulizio Hail Mary in the first place:
RT #76 top of line
Literally his first snap of the year.
This surprised nobody. Everyone had just watched four and half games of a guy who beat Bushell-Beatty out. They had not gone well. Anyone who pays obsessive attention no doubt remembered that JBB's 2016 start against Rutgers featured two ole blocks in just 15 pass pro snaps and immediately saw Ben Braden flipped out to tackle so a true freshman Bredeson could play. Bushell-Beatty's pass protection is—or at least should have been—a non-starter.
PFF charted 16 pressures allowed by JBB last year in about half of Michigan's snaps, which extrapolates out to... lots. Their 44.9 grade for him is the lowest number I've seen released to the public since they moved to their 0-100 system by about 20 points. That grade is not even backup quality. It is a radioactive grade. FWIW, Bushell-Beatty's 15 pass pro minuses were by far the worst on the team on a per-snap basis.
Even your author, who has spent much of the offseason actively dreading what is apparently set to become reality in a few days, isn't as down on Bushell-Beatty as that. It was not a coincidence that Michigan's run blocking improved dramatically upon his insertion. And it was both dramatic and immediate. I spent sections in both the MSU and PSU UFRs explaining why the pretty decent run blocking grades didn't match up with the dismal yards per carry—"safeties are now also linebackers" is your number one answer, let's play the Feud!
Bushell-Beatty participated in those grades, scoring acceptably for most of the year (+3.5, +4.5, +2.5, +12 (Rutgers), +3.5, +1.5) before participating in the line-wide collapse against Wisconsin. Unless PFF handed Bushell-Beatty a flat zero for pass protection, which is admittedly possible, they were harsh on his run blocking.
There's a different world where Michigan isn't caught in an OL hell of their own devising where Bushell-Beatty is a long-time respected guard. His insertion gave Michigan an old-school right side of the line and was one of a few catalysts for Michigan's late-season rushing surge. Dude can mash. DTs that met Onwenu and JBB double teams frequently got ejected from the hole with bonafide velocity:
OG 50 and RT 76 to top of line
The resulting gaps were sometimes more of a cavern:
This was not just the case against the basket-cases on the end of the schedule,as the numbers above testify. The Wisconsin thud does imply that there was a level of opposition for which JBB was unprepared for; the kind of guys who can rip your arms down and rip you past them may have been a bridge too far for a guy who has never been particularly balanced. It is worth noting that Indiana, which is frequently the opposition when JBB does some mashing, was a solid run D last year—33rd in S&P+ despite getting mauled by Michigan.
"Juwann Bushell-Beatty, I really see a better focus, a stronger guy that's now more confident who played last season. You could see him getting better and better as the weeks went on. In the weight room and in the drills, he realizes this is it. If he's going to start this year, if he's going to have a pro career in front of him, this is put up or shut up time. It's been positive, really positive for JBB."
“I saw a lot of growth. I saw a lot of change. I think he learned a lot about what we’re doing offensively, the system,” Warinner said. “He got smarter as a player, but he also learned what his weaknesses were and then he attacked them aggressively. … Right now, he’s at the lightest weight he’s ever been since he’s been here. He’s under 320, training hard, different body, different look, different demeaner, confident.
“He’s gotten his body and his mind right. Now he has to play up to that. I think he can. ... He isn’t guaranteed a starting spot, but he has done everything he should have done from the last day of spring ball until right now, to put himself in the best position possible."
If Bushell-Beatty can reduce his pass protection events by a third and get incrementally better on the ground he could be a below-average but survivable RT. That is within the realm of reason. Is it more than 50% to happen? Probably not. Would it be a shock? No. And given the rest of the team, a below average tackle should be good enough to win most games. That's the ticket.
BACKUPS OR THE STARTING TACKLE COMBO BY WEEK 6: DUNNO
The Great Offseason Hope was that redshirt freshman JAMES HUDSON [recruiting profile] would blow through the opposition and claim a starting spot as soon as humanly possible. The end of spring practice would have been lovely. That did not happen. It seemed like it was about to happen in fall camp as Runyan secured his spot and JBB and Hudson got moved away from the blindside. Until a few days ago insiders were asserting that Hudson was their guess for the starting job. Those always had the air of "I've seen the other guy so you might as well," and never had much conviction behind them:
One source said if it remains this close that Hudson would likely get the nod as the ceiling is higher there. Again, nothing appears to have changed on this front; both are taking snaps with the 1s.
Still, it would have been nice. Hudson is not proven to be a walking offensive segfault and comes with a lot of positive insider chatter.
Hudson was a touted defensive tackle coming off an explosive, Willie-Henry-esque senior season when Michigan moved him to OT. This wasn't a shock; until his blowout senior year on defense Hudson was projected on offense about as often as he was on defense. But it was a bit of a surprise since he had that senior season and Michigan was going to be in need of some defensive tackles. Michigan moved him because his OT upside was large, and also the rest of this section. Warinner:
"James is extremely talented. Talented (enough) to be a starting tackle at Michigan, and talented enough to be an honors winner, conference-wise. When that occurs? He controls that.
But, I saw him take steps from offseason conditioning in January and February, to spring ball, through this summer. … I’m excited about him because his ceiling is so high. He is so talented.” ...
Added Warinner, citing pre-snap adjustments and handling varied defensive looks as two areas of difficulty: “He has quick twitch, he can react, change directions, he has enough power… he’s competitive. I mean, he has the traits of an NFL offensive lineman. … His thing is consistency of technique and consistency of effort.”
That was before the fall, and during it there were various mentions that Hudson had taken the step forward everyone had hoped. Bredeson:
"James has picked up the playbook really well. Increased his speed of the game, increased his technique. ... He’s become much more consistent. There’s been some days where James was lights out, couldn’t get by him. And then there’s some days that that was not the case. Overall, he’s been able to stack a few days. So far through camp, we’ve had the pads on, I think four or five days now? He’s been stacking some good days up.”
“The jump for James from spring ball to camp has been huge. I think from a maturity standpoint he’s growing up, been learning the playbook better. He’s really gotten into football. Really bought into the O-line. He’s been killing it.”
A little while after that press conference Webb asserted that Hudson was "pushing much harder" in fall and had "added a few more" practices to his strong run. And then... not so much. There have been a couple of assertions that Bushell-Beatty's spot atop the depth chart is much like John O'Korn's start at Penn State last year: preferring an older player over a younger one because a night game against a tough opponent is coming up. If that's the case it won't take long for Hudson to take over, and this space projects there will be some bumps but no looking back if and when that happens.
50 pounds ago, but in a good way [Isaiah Hole]
The backup left tackle is some variety of large and unprepared freshman. With redshirted 2017 recruit ANDREW STUEBER [recruiting profile] suffering some nagging camp injuries it's true freshman JALEN MAYFIELD [recruiting profile] who seems to be #2 coming out of fall camp. This is alarming, naturally, but no more so than the rest of the position group. And hell, if anyone wants to volunteer to be freshman Mason Cole I'm sure the staff is listening.
Mayfield might be. His recruiting story and explosive growth are convincing arguments that he will be a high-quality tackle, and soon. Per Webb, Mayfield veritably burst out of the gates in fall camp:
...revelation. The hype about him being a definite starter has been off-base, but it’s not totally unfounded. ... one observer said, “it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if Hudson and Mayfield are the starting tackles at some point this season.” You can now add me to the list of those that wouldn’t be surprised.
Greg Frey's single-season cameo as an OL coach may have brought chaos and woe as too many cooks competed to set up pass protection, but by God the man can spot 250-pound future NFL all-pros and Mayfield is on track to be the next man up in that department. A few recruiting profile highlights:
- ... athleticism is immediately evident in his first step. ...frame is probably about as close to textbook as I've seen since I started doing this. He's athletic, long and most importantly is already pretty stout despite being 18-20 pounds lighter than he will be when he plays his college ball.
- his athleticism/flexibility and ability to get to different spots on the field to make blocks [are his best qualities]. He can really bend, he can pull...
- ...prototypical Greg Frey tackle. The first thing that stands out on film is how athletic he is. He's quick and so is his footwork; it also happens to be technically sound. His slide step in pass protection is excellent, as is his foot placement when drive or down blocking. His pass protection is a byproduct of his ability to reset his base quickly and it’s really well developed.
Mayfield was self-reporting a weight around 290 over the summer and when the phonebooks came in they listed him at a just-about-ready-for-prime-time 296, an expansion doubly stunning because Mayfield still looks like a slender, developmental tackle. If the Runyan talk, such as it is, is just happy Johnny Sears stuff, Mayfield will be starting by game five. And that feels just fine in context.
STUEBER, meanwhile, was the Mayfield prospect last year but hasn't generated a ton of buzz since. He's got an inch or two on Mayfield but that's not too helpful if Mayfield has a perfect LT frame, as a number of people suggested and Frey pounced on. He is Frey-ish, though: a large guy who needed to fill out with impressive mobility. Drevno:
"very athletic … possesses great initial quickness. We love his athleticism. He has a great frame and going to put the right kind of weight on … will play with great strength and can be a force for us."
Unlike Mayfield, Stueber was stuck in virtually unscouted Connecticut and didn't get an Army eval, so he's more of a wild-card. I still thought he had a good shot at working out and at 6'7", 323 he's close to ideally sized. Harbaugh:
I don't want to leave out Andrew Stueber ... you look up right now, he's a mountain of a man who is really moving well and is responding in the weight room and so is Joel.
It's too early to get skeptical about any OL, let alone one from the hinterland who missed a chunk of fall camp. But it still would have been very, very nice to hear some "he's a BEAR and he's COMING FOR YOU" quotes over the offseason. Radio silence likely means Stueber needs another year in the oven before he's a real contender.
i don't want to go on the cart [Eric Upchurch]
The guy who actually started last season, NOLAN ULIZIO, has dropped so far down the depth chart that your author had to double-check that he was still on the team. He is. In almost every visible way he is not. If he is included in an insider report or press conference answer it's one that dutifully mentions everyone on the roster competing at a spot.
This is not a surprise. Ulizio's rise to the starting job last year was so late that this preview filed him as a backup, noting he'd been "a total nonentity on this site" for the previous year. When he was real bad against Florida the UFR asked for patience since he "had to be terrible" given his context:
Redshirt sophomore, first start, barely entered the conversation until a couple weeks before the end of fall camp: had to be bad. Was bad. I saw some hopeful assertions that he was functional on the ground and bad in pass protection, and I don't think those are accurate.
An astounding –12.5 run block grade was largely Michigan running a bunch of inside zone and Ulizio running to the second level without hitting anyone on the first; that got better. Ulizio became vaguely functional as a run blocker.
He was always and constantly a wreck trying to pass protect. Getting run over by some dudes at Florida is one thing. Those dudes are dudes. Might have dreads. Definitely can throw a car at you. Getting back-to-back –7s in pass pro against Air Force and Purdue is end-of-the-world stuff, and while this wasn't quite the last straw it should stand as the briefest possible summary of Ulizio's 2017:
RT #70 to top of line
He'd racked up another five protection minuses in that game when Michigan finally pulled the plug just before halftime.
It is deeply unlikely there is any way back from the above. Ulizio was a late flier in Harbaugh's first recruiting class with little to recommend him other than a Kentucky offer and Tim Drevno's keen eye for talent, so the above was as a third year player. The complete radio blackout about him is meaningful when the two guys he temporarily beat out are certainly on the two-deep. And his main advocate is gone. Unless there is (another) biblical plague, Ulizio will watch and then grad-transfer out.
Finally, freshman RYAN HAYES [recruiting profile] is another Greg Frey tackle to stack meat on for a couple years and then find out what you've got. Rumbles about Hayes playing tight end were always far-fetched except in the "bonus OL" sense, and sure enough as soon as he stepped on campus he was working at tackle. This is the correct thing to do for a 6'7" guy who's already 270 pounds. He's a holy lock to redshirt.