Look over the offensive line depth chart and you will quickly settle on the thing that is most apparently missing: upperclassmen.
Michigan has just two, and thanks to a couple misguided recruiting years under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan has been forced the last two years to rebuild things along the lines from the ground up. The first wave of players is in its second year on campus, and thankfully there are three redshirt sophomores hanging around from that crazy coaching change in 2011.
Michigan is looking to replace its entire interior offensive line this season, and will be doing so with a few players out of this young crop of linemen. Reinforcements are on the way, but they are a couple years off. Right now, its up to Michigan's returning tackles to help lead this young group through a trial by fire.
|Left Tackle||Right Tackle|
|Starter||RS-Sr. Taylor Lewan||RS-Sr. Michael Schofield|
|Backup||RS-Fr. Ben Braden||RS-Fr. Erik Magnuson|
What Michigan lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in skill when it comes to upperclassmen on the roster. The Wolverines return the best pair of tackles in the conference, as well as arguably one of the best in the country.
Taylor Lewan turned down first round draft money and a possible top-10 pick to come back to Michigan for one more year. He was already an all-American to just about everyone, and is coming off yet another stellar season which saw him shut out just about everyone including South Carolina monster DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Lewan is the full package: a long, athletic tackle that is a brick wall in pass protection and a battering ram to run behind. His only slight knock has been a tendency to get called for penalties, but that hasn't been a serious issue and has improved a lot from his first year as a starter three years ago. He is a strong contender for all-American honors yet again as well as a top-10 selection in the NFL draft. He is the rock that serves as the foundation for the rest of this offensive line.
On the opposite side of the line is Michigan's other upperclassman, a third-year starter, Michael Schofield. Schofield spent his first two years on campus developing, but by his third he joined Lewan on the left side, Schofield playing the left guard position as a starter for the 2011 team. The next year he shifted out to RT where there were some early struggles.
Schofield is a very capable pass blocker and solid run blocker. He is a long time starter and has the potential to be an all-Big Ten selection opposite Lewan, as well as a possible mid-round draft pick.
If Lewan is down with an injury, Schofield would be the first bet to slide over to the left. This would bring RS-Fr. Ben Braden off the bench. Braden has been praised for his strength and athleticism, and was seriously pushing for the start at LG before shifting back out to tackle seemingly full time. He seems to have the inside track on the LT job next year. The next tackle off the bench would be redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson.
Overall, the Wolverines are very well set up on the outside, barring any prolonged absence because of injury.
|Left Guard||Right Guard|
|Starter||RS-So. Graham Glasgow||RS-Fr. Kyle Kalis|
|Backup||RS-So. Chris Bryant||RS-So. Joey Burzynski|
Last year's crew was long on experience, but still struggled with effectiveness. Patrick Omameh had been the starter on the right side for three and a half years, but never seemed comfortable after the transition from Rodriguez to Hoke. Ricky Barnum had pushed hard for a starting spot in 2011 but injuries kept him on the bench until 2012 when he was slated to start at center until something like hours before the first snap when the coaches flipped he and Elliot Mealer, which should have set off a lot more alarms than it did, but I digress...
All of this is to say that replacing two fifth-year senior starters is usually a bigger deal than this situation could end up being. Michigan may not have a lot of experience, but it does have a lot of young options that have been in this offense for a year or two and are built for it.
That starts first and foremost on the right side with Kyle Kalis. A five-star recruit that was once an OSU commit, Kalis might have been good enough to make it on to the field a year ago had the coaches not wanted to preserve his redshirt. He comes as guru approved as you will find for an offensive lineman out of high school. Scouts praised his size, strength, and feel for the game, and he was considered one of the most college ready linemen of the 2012 class.
After a year waiting on the bench and getting ready, Kalis grabbed hold of the RG job and hasn't let up since. He is the kind of powerful drive blocker that Michigan has been looking for, and having him on the right side gives Michigan a nice weapon to use as a pulling guard on runs to Taylor Lewan's side of the field. Kalis will be a very good player at Michigan, and that could start as early as this year.
The other guard will be — for now at least — Graham Glasgow. First it was Ben Braden who Glasgow was pushing, then Chris Bryant seemed to have made a move for the starting spot. All the while, Glasgow was in a competition at center for that starting job as well.
Now that the dust has settled, it is Glasgow on top. The 2011 walk-on lineman wasn't very highly recruited after not having played much football in high school, but he chose Michigan over an offer to walk on at Ohio State. Glasgow has the requisite size to hold up on the offensive line (6'6, 300 lbs.) and his background as a late-bloomer makes him somewhat of an intriguing prospect coming out of fall camp.
All the players he has competed against have received plenty of positive praise as well, and they all bring something to the table, be it a knack for physicality (Bryant) or impressive athleticism (Braden). And yet, Glasgow is in front of everyone.
Given the level of depth competing for this job, one would have to imagine that Michigan is pretty well set at LG, at least until the day when Glasgow looks unable to play there. As it stands, a three way competition between young but capable players will usually lead to a serviceable option.
Behind Glasgow is Chris Bryant, a big guard out of Chicago that was originally recruited by Rich Rodriguez but fits in well with the offensive identity that Al Borges is trying to create. Bryant is a big, mean blocker along the line that has struggled with injuries and weight thus far in his career. He was generating a good bit of practice buzz before yet another injury sidetracked his fall camp. He could press for the starting job later in the season, and will most certainly be the first one off the bench if there is an injury anywhere along the interior (Glasgow, presumably, would move to center if there were an injury there).
Joey Burzynski also exists, and while he doesn't have the size to be a full-time option, he has impressed the coaches with his attitude and work ethic enough to play a role on the two deep the last two years.
|Starter||RS-So. Jack Miller|
|Backup||RS-So. Graham Glasgow|
|New Hope||Fr. Patrick Kugler|
When Michigan lost David Molk is when the wheels came off. That doesn't just apply to last year's problems and last minute switch between guard and center. Molk went down against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and played despite a pretty serious injury, and Michigan struggled to move the ball. The 2009 offense was derailed when Molk was injured at out for the season. David Molk may have been the most important offensive piece on the team in his four years as a starter, and I say that fully realizing that Denard Robinson is part of this discussion.
So if you can't bring Molk back, you might as well replace him with his protege. Jack Miller was a middling center recruit out of Ohio that was praised for his mean streak and feel for the game while derided for his lack of size. Sounds like Molk.
He spent that first year playing behind David Molk and learning as much as he could. While he wasn't able to break into the starting lineup a year ago — not too worrisome due to his size — he is bigger and more experienced now, and Michigan hopes that it has found its man in the middle.
Miller will need to do a better job creating a cohesive line, one which is comfortable with the calls made on the field. That Miller has prepared for this role since he stepped on campus is good news given the complexities of the position. It is doubtful that he makes anyone forget about David Molk, but as long as he makes us forget about Elliott Mealer, things should be just fine.
When Miller isn't playing on the inside, it will most likely be Glasgow, who was hot in contention for the starting center spot through fall camp.
If Michigan is really looking deep for options at center, there is always a chance that freshman Patrick Kugler is tapped to play. He is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers OL coach and current UTEP coach Sean Kugler. This should tell you something about where his skills and football IQ are at relative to most college freshmen.
* * *
Overall Michigan has an interesting mix of experience and potential across the offensive line, and the ceiling for production is very high. However, the floor is also low, and with this many new players on the inside, Michigan could be very susceptible to missed blocking assignments, penalties, and any number of other issues that could slow a power run game that has yet to really take off in Al Borges's first two years as offensive coordinator.
As good as Devin Gardner is, this offense is only going to go as far as the running game takes it, or if things get really bad: as far as it can with the run game holding it back.