Offensive line experience: we has it
Had Lewan decided not to stay around for his final year of eligibility, Michigan would have been looking at an offensive line that would have been very short on experience. The only other starter due back was bookend tackle Michael Schofield on the right side. Schofield played his way into a solid year in 2012 after a shaky start, but asking him to shift to the left side and deal with every team's best pass rusher would have been yet another transition (Schofield played LG in 2011) that could have led to hiccups. Asking him to do it as the only player on the line with starting experience -- thus the de facto leader -- would have been an even larger burden.
WIth Lewan back, Michigan now has continuity on the outside going into next year. The team returns its the two best offensive linemen. Instead of one of the redshirt freshmen -- either Ben Braden or Erik Magnuson -- being thrown into the fire early, Michigan can use another year to develop those two for a starting role in 2014.
This is even more important when one considers just how young and inexperienced the rest of the line is. At center Michigan will either play Jack Miller, a redshirt sophomore that hasn't seen any game action but has A) the support of the coaches and B) played center since he stepped on campus; or one of the freshmen (David Dawson or Patrick Kugler). Guard will feature Kyle Kalis -- fresh off his redshirt -- at one spot with either redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, redshirt freshman Blake Bars, or walk-on Joey Burzynski at the other (true freshman Kyle Bosch could break into the starting lineup as well after enrolling early, but the coaches have seemed hesitant to play true freshmen on the line). Not one of these players has ever started a college game, and Burzynski is the only one with any game experience to speak of.
Having a steady hand on either side of the line will be a huge help to the younger players on the interior. While Michigan is replacing three redshirt seniors on the inside, those three upperclassmen were all rather ill fitting in the offense Michigan was trying to run. It isn't impossible for Michigan's offensive line to take a step forward in 2013 -- and Lewan's return only helps in that regard.
Why he stayed
As I watched Taylor Lewan's announcement video late last night after work, I was struck by something. We throw around the words "Michigan Man" so much these days that those words have almost become lost in their own hubris. What started out as something Bo said that rang true: the only people he wanted coaching Michigan were people who were devoted to coaching Michigan, turned into some warped measuring stick; a list of requirements; and most of all an easy way to dismiss someone you didn't like out of hand.
But if you were ever going to dust off Bo's old phrase and use it in the way he intended, doing so in regards to Taylor Lewan's announcement yesterday would be your best opportunity to do so. Lewan ultimately passed on a large NFL payday and the chance to immediately realize one of his lifelong dreams, to stay in college for one more year and play football with this team he has grown to love. He wants to be there for the development of those young linemen on the team. He wants to spend one more year opening holes for running backs. And he wants to win a Big Ten title for Michigan.
We spend a lot of time talking about the front end of the positive culture that Brady Hoke has created at Michigan, where 18-year-olds pledge early because of family atmosphere around the program. Now we can see a little more of just how deeply this thing has taken over the program as a whole. A probable top-10 draft pick has decided to stay in college for one more year, pushing back a huge payday for another year, all because of his love for the program and the importance that Michigan football, and team 134 hold in his heart.
This is probably the most important revelation of all, and a sure sign that outside of everything else, what Brady Hoke is doing at Michigan is working on a personal level.