You don't graduate two NFL-quality tackles and improve along the offensive line.
You also don't get much worse than what Michigan was able to do up front a year ago. Michigan's inability up front was an all-time bad performance a year ago, and things don't seem too promising as Michigan will be even younger across the board, only this time without Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to anchor the ends of the line.
The hope is that a new and more focused scheme, coupled with a sizeable improvement from some of Michigan's younger linemen that finally have some time in the program, will lead to a more consistent effort up front and one that doesn't include the most tackles for loss allowed. The hope is also that since Michigan really couldn't possibly be any worse statistically that some regression helps along the otherwise modest improvement.
Where does Michigan look to replace its tackles?
Taylor Lewan would have been a top-15 pick had he left a year ago, and he still sits in that range as one of the few franchise left tackles out there. Michael Schofield never had the same run blocking ability, but as a bookend against an outside pass rush he is good enough that a mid-round selection isn't out of the question. To replace these two Michigan has almost nothing of any proven value.
The name to watch was RS-So. Erik Magnuson, who broke into the starting lineup late in the year after Michigan exhausted a number of other options. He was good, if not a little bit small for the position (still weighing in at less than 300 lbs). Now he is injured and the Wolverines are looking at a rough depth chart. The other tackle from the 2012 class is Ben Braden, who hasn't been heard from since he mysteriously dropped out of the running for the LG job last fall. Both tackle options from the 2013 class see untenable just yet. Logan Tuley-Tillman enrolled early last year but was a major project that is still reshaping his body. Chris Fox sat out to rehab an ACL injury from his high school days.
So Michigan will likely try out RS-Fr. David Dawson at left tackle this spring in the hopes that this A) gives Michigan reliable tackle play and B) sets the Wolverines up with some depth once Magnuson returns. Dawson got high reviews as a recruit and was projected at anywhere from center to right tackle. No one thought he would be a left tackle, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This leaves Braden at RT, where he could either be an answer for the next three years, a quick exit from the discussion once real practice starts, or anything in between.
Set your expectations low here. Michigan's line looked bad in both aspects of the game last year because of a porous middle. Even if that group improves, the edges will see more pressure.
Who Do We Know?
Graham Glasgow is MIchigan's lone returning starter with a full year of games under he belt. The one time walk-on will be a RS-Jr. this year and has progressed past the point where "walk-on" should be used as a pejorative term. He is a solid interior lineman that probably isn't at true center (those snaps, yo) but could be a functional part of a good line. He will be flanked by either one of both of Michigan's Next Big Thing At Guard. That would be Kyle Kalis of the 2012 class and Kyle Bosch of the 2013 class. Kalis had his ups and downs last year but still looks to be Michigan's best bet for a mauler inside. Bosch probably should have redshirted, but for the anarchy ahead of him he burned that for entirely too little playing time. Between them they don't have a full season's worth of starts, but hey, who's counting?
The Next Big Thing?
Other than the aforementioned David Dawson — whose recruiting profile suggests that he could be a capable piece of Michigan's lineup as soon as this year if a couple things go right — Michigan has a few intriguing options up front thanks to an impressive recruiting haul the last two years at the position.
The most interesting name to watch is Pat Kugler, the son of Sean Kugler who coaches at UTEP and used to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. The younger Kugler's development when he first got to campus was hampered by a shoulder injury, but with a full season under his belt, this would be the time to expect him to start turning heads. He is a coaches son that knows the game and already has good technique. Michigan needs a strong spring from him to add depth and possibly push Graham Glasgow out to a more natural position at guard.
Other Names To Watch
Ben Braden (RS-So.) - The fourth member of the 2012 class. Needs to push for PT soon or risk being passed over.
Jack Miller (RS-Jr.) - Last year's starter at center out of the gate. Was relegated to the bench, but there is an argument to be made that things were worse with him there.
Dan Samuelson (RS-Fr.) - A late addition to last year's OL class. Still on the small side, but with open competition he could make noise.
Joey Burzynski (RS-Sr., walk-on) - Heart and grit and moxie.
What Does It Mean
Michigan is likely still in trouble, and that is almost certain for the immediate future. The Wolverines also lost RS-Jr. Chris Bryant who was so oft-injured that his eventual retirement from football was hardly a shock. Now Michigan has to make it through the spring without its probable opening day starter at left tackle (Magnuson) available.
The kind of improvement Michigan needs up front is dependant on a lot of things, not the least of which is giving these young guys a chance to play next to each other for a while and gain some familiarity with each other and the new offensive system.
Statistically Michigan would be hard pressed to get worse in 2014, but the road to improvement is a very long one and this spring will be crucial for the offensive staff to work with this unit.