2010 Michigan Football Preview, Position by Position: Six Question on the Michigan Offensive Line - Part I

Molk_medium

You don't have to look too far to find people who feel Michigan's 2010 Offense won't just depend
on the guy under center, but will depend on the guy handing the Quarterback the ball.
via Gregory Shamus (Getty Images Sport) 

A little while back I sent out a series of questions to Maize n Brew's outstanding contributors Beauford, SCM and Markus about each position on the 2010 Michigan Football team. The idea was we'd be able to give you a full rundown and preview of every position on the 2010 Michigan Football team, strengths and weaknesses. So I sent the guys a six question set for each position, starting with offensive line, to mull over. As usual, the guys went above and beyond in answering these questions.

The first in our series will be the Offensive Line. Everyone is well aware that Michigan's fortunes may well hinge upon how much time this offensive line can buy for it's quarterbacks and how long they can stay on the field. This wasn't a point that was lost on the guys. In fact, because of the prodigious length of their answers, I had to break up the Q&A into two different posts. So without further delay, let's get to the questions.

1. Michigan gave up 28 sacks last year and only had one back crack 500 yards. Overall what did you think of this Unit's play in 2009?

Markus: Michigan's offensive line play in 2009 obviously improved when we consider both the rushing and passing yardage achieved. Even if you subtract out the ridiculous 727 yards total offense versus creampuff opponent Delaware State, in total offense last year Michigan improved from 291 yards per game in ‘08 (11th in the league) to 324 yards per game in '09 (actually 7th in the league with 384 ypg).

This was achieved despite many exciting episodes of "General Hospital" at the tailback spot and a second straight year of "Musical Chairs" at the OL positions. Center David Molk was lost after the EMU game and UM struggled for consistent play at guard and tackle. Losing the experience of David Moosman and Mark Ortmann is going to be tough, but this time the numbers appear to be in UM's favor with Patrick Omameh, Perry Dorrestein and perhaps RS freshman Taylor Lewan stepping in.

As for pass blocking, one could attribute the 28 sacks to a combination of youth and injuries along the OL last year, plus a lack of experience and patience at the quarterback position. Another year under Greg Frey's coaching should help the line's pass-blocking tactics. Also, with Omameh and Lewan, Michigan might be quicker and more athletic along the front than recent years.

Running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were very talented, but they were largely unreliable over the course of the season due to injuries. The very fact that Michigan finished 4th in the league in rushing in 2009 is nothing short of a miracle. This should lead people to ask what happens now when Michigan finally fields a healthy offensive line for 10 or 12 games combined with a more durable caste of running backs? Now sprinkle in a quarterback like Denard Robinson who now has some zip on his passes and whom nobody can catch. It seems to me that in 2010 Michigan appears to have all of the necessary tools to become one of the better rushing teams in the league this fall.

SCM: The sacks I'm concerned about, the one-back-cracking-500-yards issue not as much. Why? For one, Michigan finished 25th in the nation in rushing offense last year despite all of the injuries (186 yds/game). The major reason only one back cracked 500 yards (and the other had 480...) was due to a horror-carousel of nagging injuries to Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor. Don't believe me? Look at the carries on last year's football team:

- Tate Forcier 118 attempts
- Brandon Minor 96 attempts
- Carlos Brown 81 attempts
- Denard Robinson 69 attempts

So Michigan's top two running backs combined for all of 177 carries while our two quarterbacks had 187 carries. So yeah. In 2006 Mike Hart cracked 300 attempts, in 2009 neither Michigan running back went over 100 rushes. I believe in the Molk-dichotomy. For those that don't remember, David Molk went out in the second half against EMU last year in Michigan's third game. He proceeded to miss the next four games, appeared for something like five plays and then suffered a torn ACL ending his year (and there's your synopsis of the past three years of Michigan football, sigh....). In the three games Molk played more than five snaps in, Michigan tallied 242 yds, 190 yds, and 380 yds on the ground. Now then, yes I realize that this was against WMU, ND, and EMU, so take it with your usual grain of whatever. Point being, Molk is the leader on the line and has been one of the most solid and consistent players of the Rodriguez era, losing him was absolutely enormous.

I think Molk's absence and our offensive scheme likely accounts for the majority of our issue with giving up 28 sacks (good enough for 83rd in the nation), with the lack of overall experience with the zone-read at QB and on the line I'm going to put the threshold of giving up a sack a lot lower than had we been running pro-set formations in the past. The overall lack of depth on the line last year meant that once Molk went down, we lost more than just a center, we also had to reshuffle all along the line, something that we just are not in a position to be able to weather with no ill-effects yet.

Beauford: If the question doesn't address the issue, I don't know what will. The offensive line had its issues last year in dealing with a scheme that is designed in such a way that if just ONE player doesn't do their job, or pick up their assignment, then the play blows up spectacularly. This is a departure from the I-form slam it into the line mentality of yore; if there was a missed assignment there, the back probably picked up at least one or two yards. If there's a missed assignment now, the quarterback dies.

You can see a clear division in the line play from when Molk went down. It's not some sort of secret that the Center is the leader of the line, and we have a good one in Dave Molk. He reach-blocks well (gets his helmet across a man lined up one "slot" over from him, and seals him from the opposite side), is generally pretty quick, and essentially directs the rest of the line. When Mooseman had to take over he was serviceable, but playing out of position much of the time, and that led to quarterback deaths.

The 500 yards thing wasn't that big of a deal to me because of the injuries, and the rotating door nature of our RB situation last year. Had we had Chris Perry (blessed be his name), my guess is that he would have cracked that 500 mark by the Michigan State game.

Maize n Brew Dave: Injuries, youth, depth and disposable running backs aside, I have to rate the 2009 offensive line as a bit of a disappointment. We all point to the loss of David Molk, rightfully so I might add, as the point when the offense (if not the season) went down the tubes. However, while I think the offense would have been better, I think we're forgetting just how much time Tate Foricer spent running around for his life during the Notre Dame game. Even in the waning seconds of the game, Tate was dodging would be sackers in every play leading up to Greg Mathews' final catch. The line wasn't that good to begin with last season, it just got worse when Molk went down.

At best, the line was average. At worst it was awful. There are a lot of mitigating factors here, but in terms of the on field product Michigan's offensive line wasn't very good last season.

2. What was the Offensive Line's greatest weakness in 2009 and going into 2010?

Markus: Injuries were, and still are, Michigan's greatest weakness along the offensive line. The good news is that unlike 2008 and 2009, Michigan now has a decent 3-deep roster at each position, and each player is charged with knowing the other positional assignments. This is important. It's also the second or third year under the spread option playbook and the Barwis strength and conditioning program for most of these players. They should be a lot stronger and more confident going into 2010.

SCM: Markus and Beauford nailed this: depth and injuries. With Molk in, we punch the ball in from the one yard-line at Illinois, win, go to a bowl and we're having different conversations pertaining to this season. I don't have much more than that to add really. I do think some experience with the quarterbacks will help things as well, with Forcier and Robinson being more familiar with the system and (hopefully) less likely to make the wrong read or to run around aimlessly in the backfield, things will also hopefully improve. Our greatest weakness heading into 2010? It'd be really nice to have one legitimate road-grater on the line I suppose, but other than that I'm just going to go with health and cross my fingers.

Beauford: In 2009 it was depth. When Molk went down, we slid Moosman over, which was obviously not ideal. This year, we've got serviceable parts going two deep at offensive line, even if the prospect of Redshirt Sophomore Rocko Khoury playing significant minutes should Molk go down again is slightly terrifying.

Maize n Brew Dave: Last season there was a combination of depth and inexperience that brought the line down toward the bottom of the conference, but the biggest problem was talent. In 2009, the line still hadn't gotten the system down last year, and it showed especially in pass protect. Depth was something that the team really couldn't have done much about. When Molk went down there really wasn't anyone who was physically or mentally able (i.e., knew the offense well enough) to step into his shoes. But what I think people overlook is that the line, even with Schilling and Molk, wasn't a particularly talented bunch. Mark Ortmann was a converted tight end who barely saw action until his senior year. David Moosman was a good guard, but wasn't an All-Conference level player. Mark Huyge was similar at Tackle. This was a three star line that played like it. It was okay on running plays and a disorganized mess on pass plays. If Molk stayed healthy, maybe that changes but it was clear that there were players out who were bumping up against their ceiling.

In 2010, Michigan is still an under-talented (in comparison to those Steve Hutchinson type lines from the 90's), but it is much deeper, much more experienced, and much more talented. The benefit of the suffering of 2008 and 2009 was that some talented players got to redshirt or got some playing time. This is the only system they've ever know at a college level, and they're ready to execute. I think the available depth and talent on this year's line is head and shoulders above last year's. If I'm picking a weakness on this line, it's at the tackle positions. Mark Huyge hasn't nailed down the Right Tackle position definitively, Perry Dorrestein may or may not win one of the positions, and we're not sure whether Taylor Lewan is ready yet to live up to the OMG JAKE LONG PART DEUX billing we've given him.

3. With David Moosman and Mark Ortman gone, how do you think Michigan will fare replacing them?

Markus: David Molk returns at center, which will be a huge bonus for the Michigan attack. Last fall David Moosman was pressed into center duty when Molk was hurt. I believe Patrick Omameh will be a great replacement for Moosman at the guard position. Ricky Barnum is another fast, athletic option at guard for Frey.

At tackle Perry Dorrestein is a walking tower of destructive power. He is a senior and a good candidate to replace Mark Ortman. But Dorrestein is going to have to fend off the advances of talented redshirt freshmen in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield for that spot. Playing young players can be risky business, but I'm convinced that the competition along UM's offensive line has never been better. You really have to prove each week why the position is yours alone. Seniority, entitlement and experience aren't good enough anymore.

SCM: I'm going with strong to quite strong actually. Michigan's recent recruiting on the line has been solid, we've got a lot of young guys who redshirted last season who have had time to learn the system and develop physically (Omameh, Barnum, Lewan, etc). Michigan will trot out a legitimate two deep on the line this season for the first time since Rodriguez took over as coach. So while losing the experience of Moosman and Ortman will never be a "no big deal" type of thing, we finally have the pieces in place to step up and replace those guys without having to rework the whole line.

Beauford: With this unit, I think the changeover to Rodriguez's system was so abrupt that I'm not sure that losing players like Moosman and Ortman will hurt that much. Rather, the new players - with another year in "the system" will probably play better than either of these two. It's not to say that Ortman or Moosman were bad, it's just that they lack the time that their replacements this year will have playing in this system.

Maize n Brew Dave: I also think the change over should go rather smoothly. The only position change that worries me is the tackle change over, other than that, Michigan is actually pretty set on the Line. Moosman's move to Center actually allow Patrick Omameh a load of playing time at Guard, and he returns as the starting guard for this year. So Moosman's loss isn't really that bad because his successor was already installed and Michigan gets back a better, natural centerman in Molk. I still believe the Left Tackle position will be a bit of a problem until Lewan or Dorrestein locks down the position, but let's be honest, Ortmann was a great kid but he wasn't a good left tackle. Either Dorrestein or Huyge could basically replace Ortmann, so it's a wash. If Lewan steps in a takes the position, it's an improvement automatically because he's beating out two experienced, older players. Overall I think Michigan is much stronger this season on the line despite Moosman and Ortmann's departures.

Part II will follow shortly. Go Blue!

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