2017 OL - what should have been

Submitted by AC1997 on January 19th, 2017 at 5:37 PM

These days you can’t open your web browser without finding a discussion of the paranoia that awaits our fellow citizens in 2017……and by that I mean the Michigan offensive line depth chart.  (No politics!) The dire nature of this situation really struck me this week after I saw the following things pop up on my favorite Michigan blogs:

  • Touch the Banner posted about the fate of every OL recruit for the past several years.  In that piece and also in the comments there were discussions about what went wrong.
  • Then over at 247 you hear about the minimal chance of Newsome making it back on the field this year, robbing Michigan of its only true LT on the roster and some valuable experience.
  • That results in Brian speculating that we’re in for a Bredeson/Kugler/Cole/Onwenu/??? starting five who are backed up with freshmen and guys that have never seen the field. 
  • On top of that, in his “This week in MGoBlog History” piece Maize.Blue Wagner links to a post-Rose Bowl breakdown from Brian in 2007 that talks about the offensive line being the weak link on the team that USC was able to exploit. 
     

Think about that for a moment.  A full decade ago this very blog was wringing their hands about how our offensive line performance and recruiting had declined to become the weak link on the team.  That was under late-era Lloyd Carr.  How are we STILL talking about this ten years later??? 

To help put this in perspective, Michigan had three OL drafted in 2001 in the first 43 picks – Hutchinson, Backus, and Williams.  All of those players went on to have long and productive NFL careers.  In the 15 drafts since then, here are the draft picks from the OL position:

  • 2004 - Tony Pape #221 (never really played)
  • 2005 – David Baas #33 (solid NFL career)
  • 2008 – Jake Long #1 (solid, if short NFL career)
  • 2011 – Stephen Schilling #201 (brief NFL career)
  • 2012 – David Molk #226 (brief NFL career)
  • 2014 – Tayor Lewan #11 (off to a good start)
  • 2014 – Michael Schofield #95 (too soon to tell)
  • 2016 – Graham Glasgow #95 (too soon to tell)

So it took 15 years for Michigan to match the number of top picks that they had in 2001 and of the guys on that list there isn’t a single one that could match the careers of those guys from 2001 (pending the outcome of the young guys).  Wow.  Besides a few glimmers of hope during the Rodriguez and Hoke era we continue to find ourselves terrified of the depth chart and development of our OL headed into Harbaugh’s third year with the program, a full 15 years later.

Based on the links above, I set about trying to figure out WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN with our 2017 depth chart.  I say “should” instead of “could” to make a specific distinction.  Things like injuries and off-field issues are completely unpredictable and in an ideal utopia they SHOULD not happen.  Things like “Kyle Kalis is the most sure thing OL prospect and will be awesome” COULD have happened, but it didn’t despite being healthy and available his entire career.  In other words, what COULD have happened was for some of the recruits to be the studs we thought these past few years and we’d be entering a season with Kugler, Dawson, and other upper classmen dominating on the line.  Likewise, we COULD have recruited Ethan Pocic or another star, but it didn’t happen. 

Let’s instead look at more of the “fate” side of things and look at what the line SHOULD look like if all of the pieces fell in place due to things outside of the team’s control. 

Left Tackle –

  • Projected Starter  = Ben Bredeson (So, 0.5 years experience)
  • Should-be Starter = Grant Newsome (Jr, 1.0 years experience)
  • Comment = This assumes Newsome didn’t get the gruesome injury and would be entering his second year as a starter as a true left tackle prospect.

Left Guard –

  • Projected Starter = Kugler (Sr, 0.0 years experience)
  • Should-be Starter = Kyle Bosch (Sr, 2.5 years experience)
  • Comment = Bosch left the team for off-field issues but turned into an all-B12 performer for WVU this past season.  Had he worked things out at Michigan he would be entering 2017 as probably our best offensive lineman.

Center –

  • Projected Starter = Mason Cole (Jr, 2.0 years experience)
  • Should-be Starter = Mason Cole
  • Comment = Instead of partnering with Bosch to form a dominating pair of experienced upperclassmen, he’s the lone experienced starter on the line and has to be a star for us to have any hope of holding this together.

Right Guard –

  • Projected Starter = Michael Onwenu (So, 0.0 years experience)
  • Should-be Starter = Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu
  • Comment = This gets a little tricky, but is actually a luxury.  By having the other four positions locked down in this fictional universe, the RG spot becomes a free-for-all between the veteran Kugler and two top prospects coming off of their red-shirt years.  The likely pick is Bredeson based on what we know.  This has the added side effect that Onwenu could move to NT for a season to fill that void since he isn’t needed on the OL.

Right Tackle –

  • Projected Starter = Uh…..Nolan Ulizio? (RFr, 0.0 years experience)
  • Should-Be Starter = Logan Tulley-Tillman (Sr,1.0 years experience)
  • Comment = LTT got into trouble and found himself off the team instead of being in line to be the starter at RT next year.  He may have beaten out Newsome in 2016 had he not been stupid.  He probably was not projected to be a star, but he at least projected to be a solid veteran starter.

 

There you have it.  Brian’s projected line has three first-year starters, just 2.5 years of starting experience, and a guy playing out of position in Bredeson.  In our ideal world situation, we have just one first-year starter that will emerge from a good battle, a healthy 6.5 years of starting experience, no one out of position, redshirts on all of the freshmen, and Onwenu available to play back-up NT. 

While we know that OL projections from high school to college are probably the least accurate of any position, physical development is a wild-card, and coaching is critical……the conclusion from this analysis is that fate is also a bitch.  This is why you always want 4-5 recruits in every class because you never know what will happen.  Let’s hope Harbaugh and Drevno can work some magic this off-season with these guys.  

Comments

The Legion

January 19th, 2017 at 6:20 PM ^

Good post. Enjoyed reading this. I can hope it does not take several more years to bring UMs OL out of the funk (pun...maybe..?) that has plagued it for the past decade.

Tomoh

January 19th, 2017 at 10:02 PM ^

Wow, this is pretty depressing. I've always had slim hope even during RR and Hoke years. With Harbaugh and Drevno, I have real hope. Hopefully, our recruits will be of quick reload types. I know we're getting there.

Be calm and go blue!

skegemogpoint

January 19th, 2017 at 10:21 PM ^

You left out one very important fact as it relates to 2017: much of our pain is self induced. Bosch wanted to return to the team but JH apparently wouldn't allow it. Also, LTT has graduated from Akron and is eligible for a grad transfer. We could pursue him!! We should pursue him. Yes, the kid erred. But he paid a high price and went on to earn his degree. Someone is going to get a good player and a good person. Why not UM? It really makes no sense not to give a kid a chance after he has shown a serious rehabilitation effort.

MinWhisky

January 19th, 2017 at 11:24 PM ^

Patrick Omameh is currently playing Oline for the jacksonville Jaguars.  He was signed by RR and played under both RR & Hoke. From late 2008 through the end of the 2012 season, Omameh started 41 games.  And, also during that period, UofM's Oline had the likes of Taylor Lewan, Steve Schilling, David Molk, Michael Schofield, and Omameh as starters.  Not too shabby.  It was the failure to develop the 4-5 star 'studs' in Hoke's 2012 recruiting class that really killed us.

trustBlue

January 24th, 2017 at 2:32 AM ^

Everyone recruited in 2012 would have already graduated by now. 

The bigger problem is attrition from the 2013 class - out of 6 OL recruits (Bosch, Fox, Kugler, Dawson, LTT, Samuelson) only Kugler remains on the roster for 2017.  

In 2014 we picked up only two OL - Mason Cole and Juwan Bushell-Beaty. This made sense at the time when everyone from 2013 was still on the roster and expected to contribute. Most of the attrition from 2013 class did not occur until after Harbaugh arrived (Bosch, Dawson, LTT, Samuelson).

But subsequent attrition mixed with light recruiting at the OL spot in 2015 and 2016, and the injury to Grant Newsome and that's really the issue we are facing going into 2017.

EconClassof14

January 19th, 2017 at 11:35 PM ^

Great content. Shows how 1 or 2 bad decisions can snowball into years of fighting uphill. Harbaugh should have teken an additional O-lineman in last year's recuiting class, even before Devery Hamilton's brutal decommitment 

AC1997

January 20th, 2017 at 7:44 AM ^

Building on some of these comments, it is interesting to think about the coaches actions:

  • Carr - Essentially stopped recruiting both quality and especially quantity late in his career.
  • RichRod - For all of the negatives, it is hard to knock his OL development.  I'm not sure how I missed Omameh in the draft list, but for a brief moment RichRod had a good line.  But he screwed up recruiting quantity and had some early washouts.  
  • Hoke - He had the big class trying to make up for RichRod, but they didn't ever develop as much as we had hoped.  Missing on Fisher and passing on Pocic hurt.
  • Harbaugh - The jury is still out.  They weren't able to do much with Hoke's players and recruiting so far has been short of ideal since they have yet to sign a true LT and the classes have been full of several projects.  Bredeson, Onwenu, Ruiz, and Fillagia give us hope, but we haven't seen anything on the field yet to get us exctied.

 

AC1997

January 20th, 2017 at 7:48 AM ^

One commenter mentioned that Harbaugh contributed to the loss of Bosch and LTT.  In some ways that's true I suppose, but I don't mind having a coach with a good morale compass.  In Bosch's case he essentially suspended him for a year and despite that the two of them couldn't come to an agreement of what it would take for him to stay on the team.  I don't think the LTT story has been finished yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if Harbaugh figures it is best for both parties to have a fresh start.  

Not signing either Hamilton or Swenson last year hurt the OT depth, that's for sure.  

Mr Miggle

January 20th, 2017 at 11:24 AM ^

That will get you kicked off of pretty much any team anywhere. I know he was kicked off the team before the convictions, but that's a moot point. Aside from that, a new coach coming in has to establish discipline and expectations for off the field behavior. Harbaugh made the only reasonable choice. As far as bringing him back, I'm skeptical that the school willl allow it.

Ron Utah

January 20th, 2017 at 1:26 PM ^

This is an excellent post.  A mix of bad roster management, bad coaching, and bad luck has put our 2017 OL in a tough spot.

I do not understand why everyone is writing of Juwann Bushell-Beatty.  Remember how bad Newsome looked in 2015?  JBB was our "next man up" this year, and I fully expect him to either start at a tackle position.  He will have another year in the S&C program and another year of solid coaching.

My line guess: Ulizio / Bredeson / Cole / Onwenu / JBB

It's ceratinly possible that Kugler or a freshman changes that starting OL, but knowing what we know now, that seems like the best grouping.  

It's worth nothing that having JBB (6-6/311) and Onwenu (6-3/350) on the right would be a LOT of beef.  Bredeson and Ulizio seem more athletic, so it could make for a "right-handed" running game with Bredeson and Ulizio pulling towards Onwenu and JBB.  This also sets-up well for pass pro since Speight is right-handed and your more athletic lineman are typically your better pass-blockers.

Ruiz seems like the most college-ready guy and he would be my first guess for a freshman to crack the line-up.  Filiaga plays the right position, but let's not forget how tough it is for true freshman to succeed on the OL.

Carpetbagger

January 20th, 2017 at 1:38 PM ^

Why are none of these articles mentioning Runyan? I thought he and Ulizio would both be considered at RT. I assume there are things I just hadn't heard, but I know he was a bigger dude than Ulizio. And size definitely matters for Harbaugh's line wants.

AC1997

January 20th, 2017 at 1:52 PM ^

As for Runyan, I would LOVE for him to fight his way into the conversation.  I think guys like him with a bit of a chip on his shoulder can be the kind of guy that makes an impact in his later years on a team.  I think the issue is that he was so  undersized as a recruit that it would be a surprise to see him anywhere other than C or G - and he still is probably not ready for those yet.

 

With JBB there will likely be every opportunity for him to earn the start at one of the tackle spots.  If you squint hard enough the one bright side of having so many spots up for grabs is that there will be an all out competition for them and no one (aside from Cole) has earned anything yet.  JBB has the most experience of the guys we're talking about, even if it wasn't much and was unimpressive.  He, Ulizio, Runyan, the incoming freshmen, and even the walk-ons will get their shot.  Let's hope a couple of guys sieze it and the coaches work some magic so that this isn't what holds us back in 2017.

Mongo

January 24th, 2017 at 9:44 AM ^

the enormous size and quickness of NTs/DTs in the P5 makes the old OL recruiting insufficient. 6'4" and 300lbs is just too small for this new era. Interior OL needs more base, guys like Ruiz and Onwenu are the future up the middle. Cole is an excellent technician but he just isn't big enough to take on elite NTs. Same for Kalis, Kugler and Bredesen. Would like to see Ruiz play some guard as a frosh, learn from Cole and add some bigger base to the interior for double teaming these new era NTs/DTs. Maybe Bredesen can add 25lbs and stay at guard, we will see but his frame and athleticism is more like an OT.

Beyond 2017, OL is looking on the rise. By 2019 with conditioning, it should be way above average (maybe even elite) and built to take on today's elite NTs/DTs ... something like:

LT Stueber 6'7" / 335
LG Filigia 6'6" / 345
C Ruiz 6'3" / 330
RG Onwenu 6'3" / 350+
RT Bredesen 6'5" / 320

Compare that to 2016:

LT Braden 6'6" / 325
LG Bredesen 6'5" / 300
C Cole 6'4" / 300
RG Kalis 6'5" / 305
RT Magnuson 6'6" / 300

Way more size, almost like 150 more pounds of push.

maize-blue

January 28th, 2017 at 10:45 AM ^

I'm in the minority and actually think the O line will be fine next season. Not much depth, but think our Guard, Center, Guard lineup could be pretty good. I also think the true freshman, Ruiz, may get a shot at Guard. They could then kick Bredeson to a Tackle spot.

My WAG starting lineup would be Bredeson, Ruiz, Cole, Onwenu, Uizio. Other options could be JBB (T), Filiaga (T), Kugler (G). Ulizio and Bredeson could be flip-flopped and same with Ruiz and Onwenu. 

StellaBlue

January 31st, 2017 at 2:00 PM ^

When I was growing up my old man used to characterize football programs by top position group.

e.g.

PSU: Linebackers

USC: Running backs

UM:  Offensive Line

I remember Michigan just steamrolling teams, especially in th 4th quarter when things got ridiculous.  Selective memory and all, but it is really odd to think how long it has been since OL has been a strength instead of worry.

 

It was one of my great hopes with the Harbaugh hire that we could do what his Stanford teams did.  It may take a while...

Blarvey

February 1st, 2017 at 5:18 PM ^

As bad as this looks, the OL is one group that can be difficult to scout accurately, in part because there are so many different positions. The hiring of Frey should help to develop the young guys and he will also be coaching TWJr and Asiasi, who from a blocking perspective, will be much different from Butt.

The other thing to keep in mind is that while there aren't a lot of starts returning, there are a number of years with Harbaugh and Drevno. The depth is thin, so staying healthy will be really important.