It's November 2nd, 2013, and Michigan fans are bracing for what they know is about to occur: a bludgeoning. Devin Gardner knew this game would come but didn't have enough time to put on an extra fifteen pounds of mass in preparation for the beating. November 3rd rolls around and he's still a bit cloudy in the head, but this time it's because he's been bludgeoned and not because he knows a bludgeoning is about to occur. The anticipation of pain and pain itself can be equally harmful to a man's brain, but at least the latter is of finite nature.
Fast forward to August 14th, 2014. Michigan fans have been anticipating pain for months, grasping at every last straw and fueling the madness that anticipation brings. Brady Hoke, sitting on a seat heated by Darrel Funk himself, announces that Michigan's starting five is likely to include true freshman Mason Cole. The Michigan fan base freaks out. I freak out.
[dies inside, comes back to haunt Funk] RT @Spath_Wolverine: Cole, Magnuson, Miller, Glasgow and Braden is likely your starting OL. per Hoke— Anthony F. Mammel (@AFMammel) August 14, 2014
He doesn't look stronger than your typical college freshman, which worries me. He's going to struggle against bigger defensive ends.— Anthony F. Mammel (@AFMammel) August 14, 2014
The anxiety brought on by Michigan's dreadful situation is warranted – no one wants to witness another 2013 bludgeoning – but it's also useless. I haven't even seen the kid practice first-hand. We've all known for more than a year that this unit wouldn't be ready come 2014, yet we argue irrationally over which offensive lineman is better suited to play left tackle or right guard. I don't know the answer to that question, you don't know it, and that guy with the catchy username and terrible verb usage sure as hell doesn't know it.
I thought I knew the answer thirty seconds after reading Michael Spath's tweet. I texted that answer to former MnB contributor and current Scout employee Eric Rutter. He promptly told me to ease up.
He's right, of course. Michigan's coaching staff has been watching Cole work against one of the best defensive fronts in the Big Ten, and they're of the opinion that he's deserving of the starting left tackle position. Yes, Hoke's projected starting five could change, but assuming it will only stokes the insanity, which is telling you that Brady Hoke is using this as motivation for one of Michigan's many talented young offensive lineman. Stop it.
The coaching staff is past the speculation, and it's definitely past Shufflemania 2013. The five best offensive lineman will play and form one cohesive unit, and Mason Cole could be one of those five. "You've got to play the best players, number one. If you [don't] do that you're cheating this great program and we're not going to do that, so from that standpoint the best guys have to play. If he's one of those five who's one of the best guys then he's going to play," said Hoke about Cole's chances of starting in a recent camp presser.
The focus needs to be shifted, and the Michigan coaching staff realized that. The trash storm of an offensive line in 2013 never made progress as countless guard-center-guard combinations failed time and time again. A new season is approaching, and the Wolverines aren't looking to shuffle ten lineman through five positions.
A unit consisting of Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow and Ben Braden doesn't look like the most talented offensive line Michigan is capable of fielding. Kyle Kalis was a five-star talent; Davis Dawson, Patrick Kugler, Kyle Bosch, Chris Fox and Logan Tuley-Tillman all boasted equally elite offer sheets coming out of high school. Why not throw them into the fire? Because this isn't 2013.
The year 2014 brings with it a new offensive coordinator and one blocking scheme. Zone rushing will require more combination blocks and well-timed releases from this unit than in recent memory. Cohesiveness is crucial.
The season also presents an opportunity that allows Michigan to build for the days beyond Devin Gardner. Coming out with a solid starting five sets the floor for the unit's potential – meaning no falling apart late in the season when a mass of new bodies is flooded into the lineup. Anyone who wants to enter the starting lineup will need to thoroughly outplay their competition during in-season practices or wait for their chance to impress in 2015, when Mason Cole could very well be a true sophomore with more starting experience than most of his backups combined.
Now, take a deep breath and let this unit come together.