Previously on...* Secondary
* Defensive Line
If you talk Michigan football recruiting under Brady Hoke with just about anyone that follows the subject, it will take somewhere between .01 and 15 seconds before that person brings up the pretty incredible string of offensive line recruits Hoke has brought to campus.
This was, after all, the great big whiff in the recruiting focus of Rich Rodriguez. Michigan has had a great deal of offensive success the past two years in spite of what has been a tenuous situation along the line. No one is overlooking the talent that leads the charge -- both in the form of Taylor Lewan now and David Molk a couple years back -- but it is easy to forget now what your first reaction was when you looked over the depth chart either of the last two years. Easy to forget because you probably blacked out and woke up clutching a bottle of whiskey and longing for the days of Backus and Hutchinson.
There was certainly talent on campus, but not enough of it. Michigan's offense last year devolved into "hey, Denard. We could use some yards, do something." very quickly, and even when Devin Gardner took over and shifted things further to the pro-style ideal this staff longs for, the yard just weren't there on the ground. Fitz Toussaint's yards/carry average dropped from 5.57 to 3.95 from the previous year when he and Robinson were a 1000-yard tandem. No one else did much either. Thomas Rawls lacked the power he was supposed to have and Vincent Smith struggled to do much as a runner.
The failings of the run game are complex, and there is little doubt that the running backs could have performed better, but a big issue for this offense was the interior of the line...which was comprised of three fifth-year seniors -- one of whom was a multiple year starter. Now? Lot's of underclassmen vying for a role. That I can say "lots" is at least some indication that all may not be lost.
Last year: RS-Jr's Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield
This year: RS-Sr's Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield
There isn't much to be said in this space about Taylor Lewan. He's is good. Really, really good. So good that he sent Mel Kiper into fits by staying in school. So good that pretty much everyone has him pegged as an all-American, and probably if they didn't they would lead off their explanation with something like "I know I picked X over Taylor Lewan, but hear me out." Lewan would have been a first round pick in last year's draft. He projects to be the same this year. He is the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten, the best player on the team, and will be guarding Devin Gardner's blindside as the quarterback gets his first chance to lead the team for a full year. Taylor Lewan is kind of a big deal.
Thing is, so is Michael Schofield. Sure, he isn't all-Everything like his bookend buddy, but Schofield has two solid seasons of offensive line play under his belt. He started out at LT in 2011, playing next to Lewan and getting ready for the shift outside which happened last year. After a rough game against Alabama, Schofield rounded into form in pass protection and had a solid year on the other side.
Both were four-star tackles coming out of high school in the same year, and both ended up right about where everyone expected. Taylor Lewan is the closest approximation to Jake Long that you could really ask for, and Schofield is a solid Big Ten right tackle entering his third year as a starter and looking to make a push for all-conference honors and a spot in next year's draft.
Verdict: slight upgrade from already pretty well set.
Ah yes, it can't be all good news. Michigan sees two of its most experienced linemen leave campus, only to be replaced by guys that have only been around for one year.
Patrick Omameh broke into the starting lineup early, as a freshman in 2009, and was a mainstay there through last year. He was a destroyer of worlds in Rich Rodriguez's offense, but never seemed quite so comfortable once Al Borges took over the offense. Had Michigan reasonable depth behind him, he may have even found his job in jeopardy (spoiler alert: it didn't).
Ricky Barnum was a last minute steal from Florida who looked to be on track to starting in 2011 before an injury derailed that. He then looked to be on track to starting at center in 2012 before something derailed that. In fall camp, Barnum flipped to guard, and we all looked at the move and said, " man, isn't that a weird thing to do right now." (spoiler alert: it was).
Neither of these guys seemed well suited for what they were tasked with. Both were built more in the mold of heavy zone blocking linemen who get to chase and harass linebackers (Hey, Teo. Patrick says hi) in free release. Handling down linemen wasn't as cut and dry. Michigan's run offense often stalled at the point of attack as the middle of Michigan's line either A) got no push or B) let one guy through to clog things up.
The hope is that where these two failed, the freshmen duo can succeed. One would certainly think that would be the case.
Kyle Kalis was a five-star recruit poached from Ohio State who just about every scout in the business called "college ready". Already the size of Michigan's two departed guards, Kalis is a nasty run blocker with an appetite for causing pain. Michigan coaches kept him on the bench last year to redshirt, but he has looked good so far, impressing in spring camp and staking as strong a claim to a starting interior offensive line spot as anyone on the team has.
Right now the picture is less clear at the other guard position, but it looks like the eventual starter will be either Ben Braden or Graham Glasgow.
Braden came in in the same class as Kalis and was an under the radar recruit from the west side of Michigan that committed early and never looked back. He also didn't do much camping to show off his considerable size and athleticism. If he wins the LG job one would have to imagine that he would be on his way down the Michael Schofield LG>RT career path (Schofield is 6'6 and seems ticketed for an outside spot). If he doesn't win the job, Michigan will most likely look to walk-on Graham Glasgow. With one more year of experience, Glasgow isn't just any walk-on. He is a 6'6, 300 lbs. preferred walk-on that was sought after by Ohio State as well as Michigan.
So Michigan will be getting revamping its guard spots with two guys that fit the mold as big, punishing blockers. These guys will also be just months into their second full year on campus.
Listen, I know this is a total cop out, but this could swing wildly. Just as much as Kalis and Braden/Glasgow seem perfect for the spot they are moving into, Barnum and Omameh seemed ill fitting while there. Of course a lot of this is hindsight in the case of the latter and unabashed hope for the former, but there are certainly reasons to look at this situation and think it'll turn out pretty well.
Then I remember that two redshirt freshmen could be starting at guard for Michigan and I get worried.
Last year: RS-Sr Elliott Mealer
This year: RS-So Jack Miller
Let no one here speak ill of Elliott Mealer's beard.
His ability to block in this offense? That's another story. The slight head cock and look of befuddlement I had when hearing Ricky Barnum would shift outside to guard in fall camp was just as influence by Elliott Mealer replacing him. Mealer hadn't spent much time at center and had largely been an afterthought as a serous threat for playing time during his career. He filled in admirably last year, but suffered from the same problems and breakdowns as the players on either side of him.
This year, Michigan gets Jack Miller. Miller is the guy that David Molk spent all of 2011 head butting, which in Molk's mind is probably a perfectly acceptable way to pass knowledge of blocking schemes and audibles from one lineman to another. Not much of a recruit (three-star) and not very big (now up to 290 lbs), Miller doesn't have the hype or excitement of some of the guards he will be playing beside.
He does have one pretty good thing going for him when you talk about centers: that is all he has ever been. Rich Rodriguez recruited him to be a center and Brady Hoke agreed with that. Miller spent his first two years on campus as a center. He hasn't slid around to different spots on the line of switched to defense. He has snapped the ball. A lot. And that is really all he plans to do until he leaves Michigan. That, and snarl at reports because Molk would have wanted him to do that.
Verdict: slight upgrade (I'll take someone who has developed for years at that position over someone that moved there in fall camp).