In light of Rimington Award winner David Molk's graduation/ensuing departure for the old wooden ship that is San Diego, in addition to the seemingly next-in-line Rocko Khoury's decision not to come back for a 5th year, you could say that the center position for Michigan going forward is more than a little dire. The only returning center prospect of note was now redshirt freshman Jack Miller...that is, until the coaching staff made the obvious move of shifting senior guard Ricky Barnum over to Molk's vacated center spot.
Barnum, a fifth-year senior--one of RR' first recruits in that hybrid Lloyd-RR class of 2008--had a bit of a rough time in 2011. He missed the opener against Western Michigan due to somewhat nebulous reasons (it sounded like a suspension at first until Sam Webb confirmed that it was due to injury...Hoke's vague coachspeak after the game didn't exactly shed any light on the situation). Nonetheless, Barnum was back for the ND game, starting throughout the rest of the non-conference slate before Michael Schofield took over for the rest of the year.
So, the center position is clearly the primary focus for this particular position group, as Michigan returns three good to very good starters while also having some decent options at left guard. Considering Michigan's first opponent has a leviathan like Jesse Williams on the interior, the center situation becomes even more seemingly precarious.
The reason I laid out Barnum's career before discussing Miller at all is to merely drive the following point home: if Jack Miller plays--and plays quite a bit--this season, don't be surprised.
Jack Miller came to Ann Arbor from, naturally, Ohio. A 6'4'' 268 prospect, he's actually listed as a defensive end on his Rivals profile; obviously, he is an offensive lineman all the way. Miller netted 3-stars from Rivals and Scout alike. Notably, Scout also lists him at OT--instead of the center position that he plays now in a winged helmet--which is probably fairly typical, as most high schools will put their best lineman over at tackle regardless of "fit." In any case, you can tell from all of this that Miller has a not insignificant amount of athleticism to his game, although I won't pretend to have picked apart the nuances of his game. I'm sure his PAD LEVEL and WANT TO are quite nice.
According to Tim, formerly of MGoBlog, Miller also moonlighted at other positions, further underscoring his agility/overall athleticism:
As recently as last summer, he was a 6-4, 230lb tight end (that also seems to be when his father passed away, for which we offer our condolences). Notre Dame looked at him as a 3-4 DE, and he seems to be very versatile.
As far as offers go, Miller's list was solid but not quite eye-popping. Other than Michigan, Miller had offers from Michigan State, West Virginia, Boston College, Northwestern, North Carolina, Pitt, Syracuse, and some MAC schools. Certainly nothing to scoff at, but it's a list that typically accompanies the profile of a 3-star prospect, whatever that is actually worth. Given a few of those offers--Northwestern, Stanford, Michigan, UNC--you can insert the necessary "well he must be a smart young man" thought bubble here. This is a good thing, since if there's any position that needs a guy with agility and quickness of both body and mind, it's the center position.
Miller had the luxury of taking a redshirt year last season, having the opportunity to watch and learn from the best center in college football (and one of the strongest leaders in recent Michigan football history). This positive effect can't be understated. It's unclear, AFAIK, how much weight Miller was able to put on last season (since MGoBlue lists him at basically the same weight that he came in with), but there's no doubt that a year of focusing on S&C had to have yielded some gains in this department. Miller was a big kid as a high schooler, but, as we all know, Big Ten football is an entirely different story, especially when you're tasked with blocking guys like Jerel Worthy, Johnathan Hankins, Kawann Short, etc. He will need to put on quite a bit more weight if he is to be a contributor at the center position (or any position on the OL).
As far as spring tidbits go, Miller did see some reps at left guard when he wasn't spelling Barnum at center. I have a hard time believing that he is actually in the mix at LG, but there it is anyway. Via Heiko's post-spring game presser transcript, here's Hoke on Miller's spring game performance:
"You know, I think every day he’s learning how to play center at the division I level. I think there’s been improvement and some footwork and the things that you look at from a technical side of it. I think that, and I think he’s got to continue -- strength gains are going to be huge for him this offseason, this summer, in the weight room. But I think Jack’s made progress. I’d like to find out, I think two of the three snaps were him and the quarterback, and it’s usually a matter of both their faults, but we can’t have that."
I'll make it no secret: despite all the huge recruiting wins Hoke and Co. have scored with respect to the offensive line, I am undeterred in my excitement to see Miller progress as a player this year and going forward. With that said, Miller is still probably a year or two away from being truly ready. The bad news is that he could very easily be pressed into action this season. Michigan is a Barnum injury away--knock on wood--from having to play a redshirt freshman at the position that David Molk, the best college center in the country, occupied in 2011.
Barring any injuries to Barnum, Miller will be backing him up when Michigan heads down to Texas for the Cowboy Classic. However, despite Barnum being a 5th-year guy, he hasn't really logged too many starts too date, and he has been dinged up here and there. Additionally, he did lose his starting spot last season, as mentioned. So, while Barnum is clearly the starter and probably will be for the entire season, the situation at center isn't as set in stone as it otherwise would be with a 5th-year player starting.
Like I said, I'm a fan of Miller. Everybody has their 3-star guy who they're irrationally optimistic about, and Miller might be mine. I think he definitely has a future as a solid to potentially surprisingly good starting center in Ann Arbor. However, that future is not now, not in 2012. I'm a little more optimistic about his prospects than Tim was about two years ago, but the concerns are still pretty obvious. He's still only a redshirt freshman, he needs to put on weight, and he spent quite a bit of his high school career playing defense. He's a work in progress.
In short, if Miller takes the field in a meaningful situation this season, that means one of two things: 1) Barnum is injured or 2) Barnum has underperformed--PLEASE NO SNAP "ADVENTURES" THIS YEAR--to the point that the staff views a redshirt freshman as a better option.
I'm confident that Miller will have a solid career in Ann Arbor. One day, the sun will set on Barnum's time, and will rise with Miller as the new
king center. That sun has not yet risen for Jack Miller. But, you know...one day.