This Week's Obsession: Oh, Line Comment Count

Seth October 2nd, 2013 at 8:51 AM

 molkmiller-Heiko

Molk/Definitely Not Molk [Heiko]

We waited to pass judgment on this offensive line until they weren't freshmen or true freshmen. We waited for the end of spring and and the end of fall and until we saw them play actual football, and do so against actual NFL-bound defensive linemen. We waited after Akron because everybody was getting a mulligan. We waited until after the UConn game was UFR'd. While nobody among the struggling is so old that their careers are discountable, the evidence is clear that Michigan, so far, hasn't had five guys who can credibly block at a collegiate level.

So…depth chart today:

LT: Brian Cook—turned down NFL to write about college

LG: Ace Anbender—Good find, should be multi-year starter, moonlighted at first as a…

C: Coach Brown—Recipient of much internet scorn lately. A good sport about it.

RG: Blue in South Bend—Top young prospect, struggles with moderation.

RT: Seth Fisher—Been here forever, appreciated but consensus is he's not a star like Brian

IMG_5059
First rule of position group panic: anyone on the depth chart with a plausible excuse for not playing yet is a god. [Upchurch]

And the question:

The OL complaints have had a few weeks now to percolate through reality and drip a little possibility of personnel changes into our cups. How do we feel about this? How much improvement would you expect out of an assumed Bryant->LG, Glasgow->Center, Miller->Bench plan, and what's the catch? Any other moves you'd consider?

Brian: There are two catches with the proposed Bryant insertion:

Bryant is liable to catch on fire at any moment. He's injury-prone. This is often an overblown thing better attributable to bad luck than anything else, but with very large offensive linemen it's a real thing, especially ones coming off a leg injury who end up getting their knee drained just before the season.

A position switch for Glagsow may limit his effectiveness. Can he snap? Can he get the line calls right? Will he have the requisite agility? That move seems like a recipe for more of the same when it comes to mental errors unless Glasgow is even more of a player than I think he is after four games.

Those issues are not enough to keep Miller on the field after consecutive rough outings against low-level competition against both pass and run. If they're going to continue with the stretch, the center is probably the single most important guy on your OL and Miller is busting too often both mentally and physically not to attempt a change. How effective your stretch is going to be when Chris Bryant is trying to move laterally remains unknown. Add that to the pile of issues, I guess. Here:

Does a Bryant/Kalis guard pairing throw away your offseason prep? Michigan wants to run the stretch for some reason. Their guards don't seem like good fits. Can you run inside zone now? Power?

I feel not good about midseason switches; I still feel that there will be improvement; there is no other move to consider except prepping Bosch or Kugler to enter the lineup in the event Bryant gets hurt or doesn't perform.

[More responses after the jump.]

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

Ace (who also thought he was the first responder): I'm going to be a major downer: I don't think any potential changes are going to make a big difference, certainly not to the point where the line suddenly goes from awful at run blocking to anything above average.

IMG_2039
Braden may be the next guy in the Long-Lewan line (he has the ink part down) but that doesn't solve the center problem. [Upchurch]

While I'm not sold on Jack Miller as the answer at center now or in the future (I'd bet Kugler starts there next year), the other options for this season aren't going to suddenly solve everything. Glasgow has been solid at left guard; shifting him to center, however, adds a lot of responsibility—snapping and line calls—and that can be tough for a young lineman to handle. Kyle Kalis has been decent, not great, at right guard, and he's entrenched there. The tackles are obviously not changing because they're upperclassmen with NFL futures; putting Ben Braden at right tackle and shifting Schofield down to guard, for example, only creates an issue (can Braden pass block well enough?) while not really solving the major one (Schofield isn't a stellar run blocker). That last suggestion is also insane, so please don't take it seriously; it's just an example of Michigan's limitations given their lack of experienced depth.

Given the line's performance so far, I'm fine with Bryant taking over at left guard and seeing if that works out; that's preferable to the status quo—run=death—at the moment. Keep in mind, however, that Bryant hasn't been able to stay healthy during his collegiate career, has no real game experience, and wasn't a can't-miss recruit—people seem to remember this differently, but only Rivals gave him four stars out of high school. He also doesn't really fit the zone-heavy run schemes that Borges has implemented lately; on the flip side, if he can move, he could be a terrifying sight for linebackers while pulling through the hole on power. Most importantly, however, he failed to win the job in the fall when it was open; even if that was in part due to his health, the fact that the coaches didn't think he was enough of an upgrade over having Miller at center to throw him out there and hope he stayed healthy says to me that either (1) his injury issues are worse than we think, or (2) the Bryant/Glasgow pairing isn't much better than Glasgow/Miller, if at all. That's doesn't portend well to a midseason switch saving the running game.

I don't think Michigan has a choice at this point: they've got to put Bryant out there and hope his legs stay intact, because Miller simply isn't holding up against even middling competition and it only gets harder from here. I just don't know how much it's going to help matters.

Oh, cool, I wrote essentially the same thing as Brian except in more words.
Inline image 1

I guess I'll add that the Bryant injury concerns don't factor much into my worries about the line because the seemingly worse-case scenario is he gets hurt and they go back to the original starters.

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

Coach: I'm beating a dead horse here, but I feel the same way as Brian and Ace. There isn't going to be a magical fix to the o-line problems and we'd all be delusional to think there will be.There is obviously a reason that Bryant wasn't in the lineup from the start. Injuries have been the main reason but is he going to be any good when he finally gets out there? I wholeheartedly believe that Glasgow will be an improvement at the center position, but Bryant is an unknown at this point. He's huge, but is he healthy, in-tune, or game-ready?

I've got nothing else. I just want to see improvement and maybe some sort of adjustment to find something the line can do successfully. It's very frustrating to watch the line fail to execute something that, either they don't know how to do, or just flat out can't do, and the result is a negative run by the backs. I know the coaches want to establish a power-run identity, but when it's not working, it's time to try something else until the personnel develops enough to be successful.

IMG_6979
Miller gives scuffed-helmet-level effort but hasn't been able to pick up his blocking assignments. [Upchurch]

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

BiSB: This might be a radical (read: stupid) suggestion, but if Michigan is going to continue to keep running the zone stretch, and a significant majority if those runs are to the left, and they're going to move Glasgow to center, why not move Kalis to LG? You'd put your best three run blockers next to each other on what would be play-side 70% of the time. You give a little more credibility to the waggle to Gardner's dominant hand (the waggle, of course, being the wave of the future in 1987). You'd take a little less pressure off Bryant/Burzynski/whoever steps in at the other guard spot.

Of course the "why not" is pretty obvious; you'd mess further with the line's chemistry and Kalis has been practicing at RG for forever and do we even know if he can play the left side and yadda yadda yadda. CAN'T A GUY JUST CREATE AN UNREASONABLE AND IMPRACTICAL MAGIC BULLET? Damn, man.

I suppose the other option would be to start running the power scheme we were all expecting/this line seems built to run. But that's just crazy talk.

Seth: The issue, as I understand it, is Bryant can supposedly (man-)block better than Miller, but Miller can snap it far better than any of those guys. Chemistry may be overrated considering the line has developed no chemistry so far. Doing things not-well repeatedly gives you practice in doing things not well. Patrick Omameh, who like the youth on this team was recruited for his skills running Michigan's particular offense, was inserted mid-way through his redshirt freshman season and that worked very well. Schofield, too, began starting at guard as an injury replacement about 1/3rd through the season (when Barnum got hurt). Replacing a center is a bigger deal, but that's because the center is usually the guy making assignments, so if he blows at that or another guy is doing it, so what?

5 - 8646501226_936f70e3fc_o
It's not just the 5 stars we see. It's the mustache. And when he does block someone it looks cool. [Fuller]

The Akron-UConn showings were close to the bottom of feasible play for a middle-of-the road FCS team, so there's not that much that could go worse. Course I said that during the bye week of 2010 and they got spectacularly worse.

The snapping thing may be a bigger deal than we're crediting it. Michigan played the Sugar Bowl with a one-legged Molk and gave up the entire middle of the offense because Molk could snap it. Molk on one leg = Jack Miller. Spread zealots aren't going to be happy if the spread things go away. Glasgow got a lot of run at starting center in spring and fall when they were trying to do what it seems they're trying to do now; it didn't work then for whatever reason.

To other movement: no. Kalis is by no means excused from the problems but with the upside he's shown, with him I think it's just a matter of time. Since replacement options there aren't likely to be much of an upgrade, may as well give him the snaps and work on improvement. So far he's the Mouton to Miller's Ezeh. And shoot me now before these GERG defense comparisons spread...too late: decimated offense spreadsheet started.

Comments

Seth

October 2nd, 2013 at 2:34 PM ^

Brian nixed my shirt idea a few years ago for a photo of Bob Ufer on one side and a photo of Brian on the other, and one says "UFER!" and the other says "UFR" and one of them has a horn and the other has a cat.

Profwoot

October 2nd, 2013 at 9:13 AM ^

Nice piece, but it would seem worth emphasizing that the line hasn't been all that bad actually, outside of some struggles from Miller, and that the TEs and RBs seem to bear a lot of the responsibility for the TFLs. So even if a change is made and it works out better than we imagine, it still might not make much of a difference.

WolverBean

October 2nd, 2013 at 9:46 AM ^

This is worth saying again! The tight ends have been just as culpable for the run game struggles as the middle of the offensive line has been. And if you can't run to the middle, and you can't run to the outside, and pulling your tackles hasn't really worked either, what else do you do? More fullbacks? Point being, there's been more discussion of the middle of the O-line than the TE's, but the TE's are worth analyzing too. Jake Butt getting so much time so early in his career, for instance, is probably not only because he's already showing flashes -- it's also because they need him. Funchess has the physical tools, he just needs the light to go on. That could happen tomorrow; it might never happen. AJ Williams has been hurt, and he and Funchess are both also still young guys, all things considered (as are Kalis, and Glasgow), but they can only grow up at one day per day*, so improvement with age doesn't get us much for this season. Add it all up, and I'm becoming ever more convinced that it's time to give Kerridge and Houma some more snaps. Though again, that's no cure-all either.

Bottom line is, we probably just need to be patient this year. Which, if the tunnel-vision of mid-season hasn't blinded us, is exactly what we already knew before this year began.

*or less as one approaches light speed, depending on your frame of reference. /PhysicsPedantry

ChelseaRick

October 2nd, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

Maybe I'm seeing things but I see the line making holes.  They don't last long but I see holes being made.  With this line, Fitz needs to hit these holes a hell of a lot quicker.  If we can trust a quicker back to not fumble then we should try one.  I understand running nothing but Fitz through these last two games as the games have been on the line and another turnover would have resulted in losses.  But HOPEFULLY we can somehow gain some space on the scoreboard and try some different backs this Saturday.  That "somehow" is Gardner protecting the ball (I know, Mr. Obvious).

TXmaizeNblue

October 2nd, 2013 at 1:17 PM ^

I find it completely ironic in the interview of Fitz, posted on mgoblue.com, Fitz actually says "I never hesitate, I hit the hole hard"  (I'm paraphrasing, but I think that is very close to what he says).  I just laughed and shook my head.  Yeah, and Barry Sanders was a straight downhill running back...

Bodogblog

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:13 AM ^

There are no other options at TE though, besides more Butt and less Williams.  Which I believe we'll start to see this week

Center and LG have options.  If it's true that the coaches were very close to putting Glasgow at Center and Bryant at LG before the season (but didn't due to Bryant's injury), there's a real chance the team can improve in the middle.

ChiBlueBoy

October 2nd, 2013 at 11:46 AM ^

*To the individual traveling at near-light speed, it's still 1 day/day. Only to others not traveling with the OL would it seem slower. For the OL we say is traveling at near-light speed, that individual would believe himself to be stationery, and the others would be traveling at near-light speed relative to him. Which is the "correct" point of view is a mistaken question, as both are correct and truth is relative to the point of view of the observer.

ChiBlueBoy

October 2nd, 2013 at 2:02 PM ^

On Molk's spaceship, the clock would run more slowly, and he would age less. Less time would elapse for him, and one could argue that he had not used up all 4 years of eligibility. Since the games are not played at relativistic velocities, however, and assuming the NCAA adopts an earth-bound calendar, no.

On the other hand, I think the NCAA would consider waiving the 4-year rule if Molk promised to have weekly press conferences consisting of nothing but stupid questions and his glares/snarky responses.

True Blue in CO

October 2nd, 2013 at 9:20 AM ^

Either tweak the OL personnel, the technique, or the play calling to allow both Fitz and Gardner better opportunities. If we can make some level of progress this week, then maybe we can gain some offensive momentum for the rest of the season. This week and next are great opportunities for the OL to stabilize and find some rhythm for the rest of the season.

Schembo

October 2nd, 2013 at 9:51 AM ^

Paint me as cautiously optimistic.  At some point, the power run game has to become a staple of the offense.  I think this is the first step towards that.   I have to believe that's the vision Hoke has for the offense with the backs and lineman we've been recruiting. 

ebv

October 2nd, 2013 at 9:55 AM ^

There's another option, which is to change up the playcalling. This line has been better at pass-protection than run protection. It seems to me that an emphasis on short passing routes might get some defenders out of the box and make the running game easier. The problems come when the opponent knows we're going to run and we run anyways.

SCarolinaMaize

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:09 AM ^

That's what they did to start the ND game, and I  believe they might try that when they head to PSU.  I just think they went away from that for "lesser" defenses.  IMO, they were going to try to run, run, run to give the young guys all the snaps they could before the B1G games began.

An Angelo's Addict

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:03 AM ^

If you think we have troubles with the O-Line this year, just wait till next year when we have to replace our two senior tackles and will either be starting a RS frosh at center or having this miller/glasgow debate again. Let the good times roll

alum96

October 2nd, 2013 at 12:12 PM ^

I will be happy to come back here in a year and say I am wrong, but a line featuring potentially 4 new starters and at minimum 2, with a likely 3-4, none of which are juniors, seniors, or RS JR or RS SR is not a thing to not "be concerned about".  Not worried about Magnuson or Braden? Based on what?  Kalis is the best prospect of the bunch and is not shooting the lights out NOR should be expected to at this age and starting experience.  Magnuson was blown up on that Devin buttfumble at UConn, at his 285 lbs.  Braden has less experience than Magnuson.  You see what this year's line is doing with 3 underclassmen with limited experience and next year will be 5.

Kugler almost seems a shoo in to be next year's center, Kalis will come back at guard, you are breaking in 2 new tackles without much experience at all barring injury in the next 9 weeks to our tackles, and then a Bosch/Bryant (!)/ Glasgow/Dawson battle ensues for the other guard.  The entire line is underclassmen with potentially only ONE with starting experience .... and some people are "not concerned"?  Cmon now.

reshp1

October 2nd, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

After all the proclaimations of "it can't get worse" in the offseason, I agree with you some guarded expectations are in order. OTOH, we do have a fantastic 2 years OL recruiting coming ito their RS So and RS Fr years. The winners of those competitions, more likely than not, will be a guy that hacked through a jungle and has come out the other side kicking ass (to borrow Brian's words).

gbdub

October 2nd, 2013 at 12:45 PM ^

I think that's worth keeping in mind. Glasgow seems legitimately decent, so he's either a starter again next year or the coaches see one of the younger guys as a significant upgrade. Kalis will stay at RG and be improved.

But outside of that it's a bit scary. Bryant will return, unless he's hurt again, which empirically is likely.

Upside is we should at least be able to run power next year. Downside is no idea if the new tackles will be able to keep Gardner clean.

uminks

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:12 AM ^

would love to have Miller as their starting center. It just seems like other B1G schools are coaching up OL but they probably have depth, something Michigan will be missing for a few years.

MGlobules

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:19 AM ^

weighing in around a topic gives a nice multi-dimensional view of the problem. . . looking for wrist-slitting implements as I type with one hand. . .

Shame that we're getting this wrong just as many other things seem to be coming together. Lot will now depend--as if it didn't already--on Gardner's state of mind in dealing with the lack of protection. 

On the immediate plus side, we've got Minnesota this week to implement and assess these measures. 

reshp1

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:40 AM ^

You know the behind the water fall scene in Last of the Mohican's when Daniel Day Lewis's character says "If we go there's a chance.... if we don't go there's no chance," I feel like that's where we're at right now. It's a desperation move that may very well make things worse, but there's a chance, however small, that it's an improvement. The status quo is known at this point, and there's really no chance to be successful against the better teams left without trying something else.

MI Expat NY

October 2nd, 2013 at 10:45 AM ^

One thing I'll say about the argument that Glasgow/Miller beat out Bryant so Bryant probably won't be an improvement: coaches don't always know.  Sometimes it's true that a replacement based on performance is no improvement or even an actual decline, but other times the improvement is so pronounced that you're left wondering how the coaching staff could have ever thought the original starter was better.  Coaches aren't always right in depth chart designations and we won't know the results until we see them. 

PburgGoBlue

October 2nd, 2013 at 11:19 AM ^

i don't see why they can't just block good, it's not that hard.

 

/s

 

 

Honestly, maybe they are getting too fancy on the run blocking, maybe just try more straight up blast blocking.

dragonchild

October 2nd, 2013 at 11:39 AM ^

I'm not sure either.  With the exception of Miller and maybe Schofield these guys seem like they should be packed together, not in a spread.  They should be pushing the pile 4-5 yards against Akron's D-line.

In Borges' defense, I can think of an excellent reason NOT to do so -- it wouldn't work against the B1G, so you'd be implementing a scheme specifically designed to defeat the weakest and most inconsequential of your opponents.  Borges is doing the opposite; getting a young line up to speed by having them run plays against weaker OOC teams in situations of adversity.  With a couple infamous exceptions, his playcalling generally improves in big games.  Needing a goal-line stand against Akron and a late pick against UConn means he probably took it too far, but running zone stretch ad infinitum and hanging on to win against weaker teams is better for development than just having the O-line bull rush undersized lines and then have nothing else to go to when they start conference play.  My main reservation is that he seems to think the zone stretch is the base play to bring to the B1G and (with the exception of CMU which as the first opponent probably expected inside power and got pantsed) this O-line just flat-out isn't good at it.  I know you don't want to re-write a fully installed offense midseason and Borges has forgotten more about football than I've learned, but I'd love to know why he thinks a young line recruited to move piles should be running sideways.

dragonchild

October 2nd, 2013 at 11:28 AM ^

"Miller simply isn't holding up against even middling competition and it only gets harder from here."

He didn't hold up against AWFUL competition either.  Notre Dame doesn't seem to be anywhere near as good as we thought, and the rest of the OOC was about as cupcake as it gets.  I really don't want to give Akron much credit when other opponents, considered mediocre in their own right, were able to open seams so cavernous you could literally drive trucks through them.

I'm not going to question Miller's effort and Michigan's offense is still quite potent, but it's not being negative to say the interior line is terribad.

Belisarius

October 2nd, 2013 at 1:07 PM ^

It's purely anecdotal, so take it for what it's worth, but in a similar situation I've seen a similar move produce positive results. In Wannestedt's last year, the O-Line was thin, the center an undersized JUCO. The Panther's got off to a woeful start, couldn't move the ball against lowly New Hampshire, got trampled and embarassed on national TV by Miami. They reshufled the O-Line and had a substantial increase in tehri play. They wound up with a respectable(ish) 8-5 record, which they likely would not have had if they stuck to the original configuration for consistency sake. As I said, it's anecdotal, but it impressed upon me that O-Line, like everything else, must be subject to change, and that change may potentially yield positive results.