There are many questions about the 2012 iteration of Michigan football, but the left tackle position in no way figures into any of them. Lewan, a redshirt junior, was a product of Chaparral High School (the same school as the previously previewed Craig Roh). As a consensus four-star, Rivals 250 type prospect, it was very easy to draw comparisons to Jake Long. While I'm not sure that Lewan is at that level just yet, the trajectory of Lewan's career to date has paralleled Long's in a number of ways.
As a 6'6'' 270ish guy out of high school, Lewan was the prototypical, ideally-framed OL prospect: tall, long arms, athletic, "mean streak," etc. It was universally understood and expected that Lewan would be able to put on a significant amount of weight without sacrificing his athleticism. A few years later, Lewan is a mammoth 6'8'' 302 (and that's just what MGoBlue lists...he could easily be bigger).
Like Long, Lewan spent much of his redshirt freshman year competing for a stating spot, with Long duking it out with Mike Kolodziej and Lewan going up against Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein (who logged 3 and 1 starts at LT, respectively). Thus, in their first non-redshirt seasons, Long and Lewan ended up starting 8 and 9 games, respectively. So, yeah, they're basically the same person/player, right? Throw in the same jersey number and the propensity to throw unsuspecting ends and linebackers through the grim Midwestern permacloud and straight into the sun*...and the comparisons are undeniable. Of course, it must be mentioned that comparing one LT to another who was once a #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft is a little bit unfair to the former. In any case, Lewan has been a great player in his own right, and the fact that such comparisons are only very slightly tinged with homerism speaks kindly to Lewan's immense talent and future prospects as an NFL player.
*This supposedly exists, but most of my time in Ann Arbor as an undergrad would seem to indicate otherwise.
As a redshirt freshman, Lewan started nine games at left tackle during RR's final season in Ann Arbor. It was by all accounts a success of a debut, as Lewan flashed his athletic ability and reach to keep Denard clean on traditional pass plays, while also showing the ability to flat out pancake people. That said, it was a far from perfect season. Lewan consistently drew untimely penalties--false starts and personal fouls, namely--that even saw him eat bench after he had officially taken over the starting role. Case in point, the 2010 Iowa game...Lewan was sent to the bench before returning later on after Adrian Clayborn essentially ate Mark Huyge for dinner.
I won't pretend to have a catalogue of "the best of Taylor Lewan" in my head like I do for [insert great Michigan skill position guy], but this is why Brian's UFR posts at MGoBlog are such a good resource. While Huyge, from my recollection, understandably couldn't handle Clayborn--a future first round pick--Lewan consistently did. A ctl+F of "Lewan" in the UFR post for this game turns up the phrase "Lewan kicks out Clayborn" time and time again.
Unfortunately, Lewan picked up a personal foul penalty and a couple of false starts in between these bursts of dominance, which led to him eating bench from about the end of the 2nd quarter till the end of the 3rd. However, this can't be understated: when Lewan wasn't committing penalties, he was not only beating, he was destroying Clayborn sans help from a tight end. As a redshirt freshman, that's kind of a big deal.
As such, that Iowa game was kind of a microcosm of Lewan's entire freshman season. Dominance marked by intermittent bouts of penalty-related derp. Brian summarized this succinctly near the end of the above linked post:
On the line, Lewan showed he should be able to neutralize any defensive end in the conference if he can just keep from going Yosemite Sam on the world[...]
The good news is that Lewan's 2011 season went much better re: penalties. As Lewan enters his third year, penalties are not the same concern that they were last offseason.
Lastly, this doesn't fit anywhere else so I'm just going to put this here:
This was, sadly, one of the most explosive plays made that day. On a serious note, whereas most linemen look fairly ridiculous when the occasional scoop-and-run comes their way, Lewan actually looked kind of okay. Of course, by "okay" I mean he looked like "an ornery grizzly bear pawing for salmon in a stream who then trudges back grumpily to his grizzly bear abode in the woods", but still. Most fat guys freeze and usually fumble after no less than one lonely second with the ball in their hands, a second that probably feels like a lifetime to the average fumble-scooping fat guy. Lewan, however, picked it up--if not with an amusing undertone of caution--and ran a whole 11 yards! For an offensive lineman, this is just about the equivalent of Denard Robinson running from Ann Arbor to Deerfield Beach and back 38 times* (give or take).
Remember that failed screen pass to Jake Long in the Cap One Bowl against Florida? Psst, Al...you should use that at some point this season. Just saying. If you see this, this offensive coordinating advice is pro bono.
*This is actually how Denard gets home for breaks. Airplanes are for the slow.
Again, it's a little silly for the layman--in this case, me--to pretend that he or she understands or even pays close attention to what is going on with respect to line play. Be honest: if you're a Michigan fan in the glorious era of Denard, you're not focusing your attention on Taylor Lewan, no matter how much he may be burninatin' the countryside on a given play and/or day. You just aren't, because then you might miss Denard running for a 142-yard touchdown (he hasn't done it yet, but somehow he'll get it done).
With that said, Lewan was All-Big Ten Second Team by the coaches and honorable mention from the media last season...I'd expect him to be on the First Team and potentially even be a First Team All-American as well this season depending on the competition nationally. Lewan has one more year of eligibility, so he could technically come back for a victory lap, but if he has the season that would seem to logically follow from his progression thus far, I really see no reason why he would. That's not to say that he won't, it's just that I wouldn't get too familiar with the notion of Lewan in a winged helmet beyond this season if I were you. I hope I'm wrong about that, obviously.
It is a little difficult to compare Lewan's legacy to that of Long's given the extremely different quarterbacks that they blocked for, not to mention the fact that no matter how well Lewan performs this season (and next if he comes back), it seems unlikely that we will be seeing an offensive lineman picked with the #1 overall pick again any time soon.
In short, after a tremendous season of pancakin' and Denard protectin', Lewan will be up for consideration for First Team All-Big Ten and All-American recognition, in addition to being a Lombardi Award finalist. He's that good, and it's a shame that he won't be around for when Michigan officially reverts back to the power/pro-style roots of Michigan football pre-RR (that's not meant as value judgment either way, FWIW).