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When the Well Runs Dry: The Media and Michigan’s Offensive Line

Over the past weekend I spent a little time in various bookstores magazine looking for some insight into the coming college football season. Thought I didn’t learn a thing about any of Michigan’s upcoming opponents other than their won-loss record from last year, I did learn three things of interest.

First, if you hang out in a book store long enough while wearing bike shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt dripping with sweat, all while intermittently scratching yourself, even the girl who smells like bong water, sporting three nose rings, white girl deadlocks down to her ankles, and is dressed in clothing made entirely from hemp will ask you to leave the store. Second, magazine porn is expensive and overrated. You can get the same thing by purchasing a copy of any truck, low rider, or motorcycle enthusiast magazine at half the price. Hell, Cosmo is a close second in the “shouldn’t these pictures be elsewhere?” category. Third, no one has a clue what to make of Michigan this year.

As a guy who follows Michigan athletics somewhat closely, this lack of information is a tad bit disturbing. Aren’t these guys paid to do this? Even the venerable Phil Steele’s Michigan preview (on the offensive side at least) is sadly lacking information on the current season. The picks vary from Athalon’s optimistic 8-4 worst case scenario to Steele declaring an over .500 will necessitate a Bowl win. On the plus side, it is nice to see that the “credentialed” media are just as lazy as bloggers when it comes to accessing new situations.

“New coach, New Scheme, New Everything” = .500 

Hurray for fall backs clichés!

Sadly, they’re probably not that far off.  But other than generic platitudes about everyone leaving with eligibility left and “new everything” there is surprisingly little information about the people that, you know, will play the damn games this fall. Seriously, don’t people pay for these things to garner information past what a team did the previous year?

The biggest information gap is probably the most important. No one, Steele, Lindys, Athalon, etc… knows anything about the offensive line. I don’t know anything about the line other than Steve Schilling will start, is our best lineman, and is returning to the system he ran in high school (read: Yay!).  The rest of the group is a massive, yet talented, question mark. Most magazines don’t even list their names. The Offensive Line has names. Mark Ortmann, Corey Zirbel, Perry Dorrestein, David Moosman, Tim MacAvoy, Mark Huyge, David Molk. 

Part of the reason for this confusion is Brian’s well chronicled disparity between talent and production in Michigan’s offensive line over the past few years. For each Jake Long, there were a dozen Adam Kraus-esssess (e.g., long-term, starting linemen who basically regressed as their time in college went on). At the helm was the (now departed) brutally incompetent hand of Andy Moeller. Perhaps that is an unfair thing to write/say, but the results this past year, with a veteran line, bare the statement out. Blame predicable game calling. Blame the system. Blame the players. Blame the Earth itself, if you must. But the line was out of sync from the first game of the season until its Bowl game, and had Carr not been retiring I willing to wager they wouldn’t have come around then either.

However, another reason for this lack of information is pure laziness on the part of the previewers. Just go to Mgoblog and type in “offensive line.” A wealth of information is available on who, what, when, where will play, or at least looked like they’d play this year. I also place the blame for this on failing to at least monitor the local media following Michigan’s spring practice. But I’m getting off on a tangent, so I’ll veer back towards the point. 

Based on spring practice, at least, Michigan’s offensive line will be Moosman, Schilling, Ortmann, MacAvoy and Zirbel. Moosman was one of the better linemen, in terms of improvement and Schilling is easily the most talented player on the line, so both will play key roles. Because Schilling is a known entity and uber-recruit, I’ll just say that he should have an outstanding year returning to the spread and without Moeller screwing him up. Here’s the skinny on his likely starting linemates.

Ortmann has a varsity letter to his name, but was used largely in a reserve role this past year at right tackle. He’s eligible as a junior this year, and should be your starting right tackle in the fall.  There’s really not a lot to go on with Ortmann other than his size. He’s played very little with limited success in two seasons. However, he’s also one of the players who had a decent spring when the pressure was put on.  I’m guessing he’ll have a rough go the first few games, but at 6-7 with a strength and conditioning regimen not centered on ice cream could grow into a monster tackle. He’s definitely got the feet for it (former high school tight end). Jury’s out, but could be a nice surprise.

Zirbel is a redshirt Junior who saw action in every game last season and is the most experienced returning lineman at Michigan this year. Zirbel checks in a 6-5 and 300 lbs. He’s another of the highly touted recruits that haven’t quite lived up to their billing (No. 1 prospect in Kentucky, creepy Tom Lemming said No. 7 tackle in his class). Zirbel started out at Tackle his sophomore year but saw time exclusively on the PAT/FG teams and at right guard, and was clearly being groomed to move inside before the coaching change. He’s clearly an athletic dude, averaging a double double as a four year starter on his HS basketball team. Certainly he’d prefer to play his natural tackle position, but I’ve got to believe a season playing inside and with the talented true-frosh Dan O’Neil, Planet Eater, coming to a line near him (same one actually), Zirbel’s got a better shot to play if he stays inside.

Moosman, nicknamed “the Marmot,” (not really – ed), a redshirt Junior thrust into a starting role despite limited action. At 6-5 and close to 300, he’s a good bet to start at one of the guard spots and could get a shot at center depending on injuries. Moosman was a highly rated lineman out of high school with creepy Tom Lemming rating him the No. 7 interior lineman in his class. Moosman’s got experience as a backup center, but seems ideal for a guard spot with his size and wrestling background (4th in Illinois his junior year, sat out senior season with shoulder injury). Additionally, former prep no. 1 center, David Molk (RSF), is banging on the door and is a good bet to break someone in half to get the starting center slot. Molk may be 6-1, but he was rated as the meanest, nastiest S.O.B at his camps and was one of the strongest linemen at Michigan last year.

MacAvoy, yet another redshirt Junior, earned his first varisty letter last season and met with limited success at guard. Tall, rangy, and a little light to be on the interior MacAvoy needs to add some weight to his frame to live up to relatively decent prep billing. It’s worth noting only saw action in five games and didn’t play after the Minnesota game. The games I remember with MacAvoy in don’t stand out, but I certainly don’t remember anything that made he say “oh, there’s a good one.” Any enthusiasm should be tempered on his expectations for this year. Like all linemen, I’m sure he needed some time to grow into the position and Barwis’ system will be a tremendous help, but he’ll need to improve dramatically to keep a starting slot. 

My guess is O’Neil will probably take over a guard slot this season from MacAvoy or Zirbel (probably MacAvoy). Moosman will be pushed by Molk at center, and Schilling and Ortmann will be more than serviceable at tackle. On talent alone, this is a fairly good group. The bench isn’t too deep, but a couple on incoming recruits should sure up the middle of the line and it seems everyone’s got some experience at tackle.

However, it wasn’t like the spring game was a ringing endorsement of the line. Brandon Graham whipped the right side of the line seemingly at will, before doing his best Unicron impersonation and engulfing Kevin Grady in the game’s best and loudest hit. Even so, the line opened enough holes for Brandon Minor to rush for a pair of scores and seemed to congeal, at least a little bit. A summer of hitting the weights should help prepare these guys for the hell that is a full season in the Big Ten. But then again, nothing prepares you for the first game of the season, especially when it’s your first start. Or for that matter your 30th (re: ASU, dammit). The line will be a work in progress this season, but there is enough talent and capability for you not to jump in front of a bus in distress.

All the information I just provided is freely available on the interwebs. So, before you waste an hour or two pissing off the smelly hippies at Borders, save yourself some time and money and surf the net for Michigan information on this season.