The MIchigan offensive line this fall is going to be long on experience and short on depth. The tackles combine for three years of starting experience (albeit with Schofield's one year coming as a guard) while Patrick Omameh has been in the RG spot since taking over late in his RS freshman season. Ricky Barnum is a RS senior that was the presumed starter at LG last year before an injury kept him on the sideline, but this year he will take over at center.
Those are the spots we know, and while it is comforting that each is solidified at the top, there isn't much help waiting in the wings.
The situation at left guard is, well, about the opposite.
The presumed starter at the spot is RS senior Elliott Mealer. If you don't know Mealer, chances are you are familiar with his brother, Brock.
The Mealer family -- father Dave, mother Shelly, and brothers Brock and Elliott and Elliot's girlfriend -- were travelling home from a Christmas party the night of Christmas Eve, 2007 when another car ran a stop sign, colliding with the family SUV, and sending it careening into a ditch. Dave and Elliott's girlfriend -- also in the car -- were pronounced dead at the scene while Brock was trapped in the wreck. Shelly and Elliott walked away from the wreck, but Elliott would tear his rotator cuff trying to free his brother from the SUV.
Over the last few years Michigan fans have become well acquainted with Brock's journey from paralysis to touching the banner before Michigan's 2010 season opener thanks in part to the help of Michigan strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis.
Elliott, once a four-star guard prospect has bided his time on the team, failing to break through to the starting lineup, or even significant playing time thus far. Mostly he has seen time on special teams units and in reserve roles.
That has begun to shift as Mealer looked like the presumed starter through much of the spring before getting moved to tackle on the second unit in the spring game. This could be just a depth issue in a meaningless scrimmage, or an attempt to get Joey Burzynski more time on the field
Burzynski is a RS soph walk-on guard that is listed at 6'1 284 lbs. If you are wondering why you haven't heard much of him, let me refer you back to that listed height and weight. Walk-ons, yo. They walk on for a reason.
Despite this, it looks like Burzynski is in line to earn some playing time, which is either a huge, wailing red-siren of despair or an indicator that he is actually a pretty good lineman. Let's hope he eats his Wheaties (and whatever else he can get his hands on) and bulks up some by the time August rolls around.
The more troubling aspect of Mealer moving to tackle in the spring game to possibly get Burzynski some time, is that none of that has to do with Chris Bryant a massive and well-regarded recruit out of Chicago that many hoped would be ready to contribute this year. Bryant is still just a RS freshman, so it isn't quite time to close the book on him, but one has to imagine the fact that he is still carrying 341 lbs has something to do with his inability to see the field early. Its hard to imagine all of that is good weight.
One player that has the best chance to jump to the head of the line in this race for the starting spot at LG is true freshman Kyle Kalis. Kalis comes to Michigan as one of two five-star prospects, and is widely considered to be one of the most college-ready offensive line recruits in the Big Ten, if not the country. Duane Long called Kalis, "One of the best offensive line prospects it has been my pleasure to evaluate in my time scouting players in Ohio."
Kalis was one of two offensive line players singled out by coordinator Al Borges as possible freshman contributors along the line, but given the depth chart at tackle (read: there isn't one. There is literally no depth. It's scary. Srsly) there is a solid chance that Kalis spends his fall preparing to step in at RT in case of an injury to either of the starters. While his long term future is more suited for the interior, Kalis is most likely going to get prepared to help on the outside before coaches look to shift him inside to fight for the starting role. The thing about Kalis that I like the most is his versatility. He's got all the tools, and more importantly, the quickness, to start anywhere along the line, but we're in it deep if he's lining up as the center.
If things get truly scary at guard, true freshman Blake Bars will be the last resort. Bars was a borderline four-star recruit that most likely isn't ready to see the field. If he does it'll either be because he was incredible underrated, or the depth chart looks like the broken, bloody remains of a civil war battlefield. Probably that last one.
Color me shocked if Elliott Mealer isn't the day one starter at left guard. A fifth-year senior with the requisite size (6'5 310lbs) and experience in the program is the de facto choice with all other things being equal. Joey Burzynski has shown a good deal of fight over the spring, but the thought of him lining up under the lights of Jerry Jones' monument to himself and facing off against the Alabama death machine makes me a sad panda.
Chris Bryant is a bit of an X-factor here. If he is able to use the summer to get in better shape he could compete for the starting job sooner rather than later. However, by the end of the year I would imagine that Kyle Kalis will be your starting left guard unless his services are required on the outside. Personally, I see him ending up as the left tackle in a couple years, but Michigan has precedent of sliding guys around within sides of the line to good success. Kalis needs to improve his ability to pull on runs to the right - let's be honest, in high school he wasn't ever asked to pull around. He was the around. His downfield blocking, though, is as Big-Ten ready as I've ever seen from a freshman.
Michigan has plenty of options to slot inside at left guard, but the lack of proven production could be a harbinger of problems to come throughout 2012. Only time will tell.
(ed: adds from RB.)