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Is the offensive line still a concern, or genuinely good?

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NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Hey, guys. I wanted to talk about the offensive line today, and some of the implications it might have on next year’s offense.

But first off, are you coming around to the prospect of this being a good group? There’s Mason Cole at LT, Ben Bredeson at LG, Patrick Kugler presumably at C - and he looked alright in the spring game, and loads better than he did last year - plus Michael Onwenu at RG and possibly Jon Runyan at RT. Not bad, no?

Eric: They certainly have some potential. What they don’t have is a lot of game experience together. They looked good in Spring scrimmages, but that was without a lot of the blitzes, stunts and changing schemes that they will see in game situations. So I still think the o-line is an area of concern, until we see them in real action. Fortunately, the schedule (after Florida) will give them the chance to gel.

Jared: I think this group has more potential than the line we had been trotting out for the past 3 years or so, but I don’t think they would qualify as “good” just yet. Having senior Mason Cole leading the way in one of the two most important positions on the line is huge, and you can count on him like death and taxes no matter where you put him. Bredeson is probably the next best player at LG , and looks like a future pro.

I am high on Mike Onwenu at RG, mostly because he is larger than an adult cape buffalo and moves like riverdancer. Kugler should hold up well until Ruiz can come in and lock that position down for the next 3 years. The RT spot is still unsettled, but I like Jon Runyan Jr to win that spot and perform decently, at the very least. It is hard not to think about ‘what if’ scenarios for this line. Such as; what if Newsome was available, and what if we would have landed Isaiah Wilson? Regardless, this position group is trending in the right direction.

Gary: I think the offensive line will be a concern until we see it beat up on a top 10 team. That’s harsh, but Michigan fans are very insecure about it for good reason. The last time they saw their offensive line really thrash teams was probably the mid-to-late 2000’s. There have been a lot of positive things said about it in spring practices, but we have heard that before.

Mason Cole has been the bright spot since he came to Michigan, but the rest of the line has not caught up to him. I think what we have seen out of Kugler and Runyan is what we’re going to get. I really want to see Bredeson improve, Cesar Ruiz start, and Onwenu in game shape. Those young guys being competitive will be the determining factor to me, because of their ceiling.

University of Michigan v University of Central Florida Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Andrew: The spring game was an intoxicating experience of the potential of this group, but the sobering reality is that it was just the spring game. Several instances of holes created were against mid-card depth chart reserves and that must be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I would like to see Ruiz secure the center position because I believe he is the best center on the roster by November, although he may not be in August. The investment of game experience will pay dividends the last few weeks of the season.

The bulked up guards (as long as they can still move and pull as fast as smaller guards) of Bredeson and Michael Onwenu should be able to create running room inside that was absent last season. Running the ball in the fourth quarter is realistic this season as is the lessening risk of anxiety attacks for us fans. Pass pro is a concern, but I believe the competition at RT and the versatility of Cole at LT will allow Speight/ Peters time in the pocket.

So to answer your question, I am becoming surprisingly bullish, but I must see how the guards hold up in pass protection against elite teams.

Nick: Yeah - last year, Michigan was great at pass protection but struggled to move the line of scrimmage really well, and that was because they had guys on the interior who were more ‘athletic’ than they were ‘strong’ for their respective positions: Ben Braden and then a freshman Ben Bredeson at LG, Mason Cole at C, and Kyle Kalis at RG. Two of those guys have spent time at LT the past two seasons, which is a bad way to stock your interior line and hope for a lot of push against defensive tackles.

But this year, we might have the opposite problem. We’ve got a surplus of size - with Michael Onwenu at RG, Mason Cole back out at LT, Ben Bredeson bulking up this off-season, Jon Runyan (a left guard last year) fighting to start at RT, plus some huge freshmen, Cesar Ruiz and Chuck Filiaga, who are competing for time against a couple of the ‘smaller’ potential starters I just mentioned.

But there’s a chance that pass protection might be a problem. What do you think about that possibility, and how much could this affect the quarterback situation?

Eric: That’s a great question. Last year’s OL was really good at pass protection, and very questionable against the run. Against weaker teams they could pad some stats, but against the good teams they were not reliable. Remember, we were basically a first down or two away from salting away wins in Iowa City and Columbus. And that must have killed Harbaugh.

So a small dip on the pass protection (and counting on Speight being able to scramble a bit) for an upgrade on the run side would be be a great trade-off. But like the first question, I don’t think we know enough yet to get a great feel for if it will play out that way.

Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

Jared: You really lobbed that one over the plate to us, but you are exactly right Nick. Once again, having Newsome available totally changes the outlook, but we do seem to have an entire line made up of interior guys.

Maybe Filiaga comes in and is the best option at RT, but he is one of the few true tackles we have on the team. Speight does seem to be at his best when things are chaotic in the pocket, and Harbaugh loves to run the ball, so maybe this is a good thing? With somewhat of a patched together line this year it could be interesting in pass pro, especially early on. Harbaugh needs to land at least one starting caliber tackle in this years recruiting class though, because we are thin on the edges for sure.

Andrew: It’s interesting how things can flip-flop that fast, but I agree that pass protection is more of a concern in 2017. The pocket will be chaotic at times so that will force Speight to improvise. I agree Speight is at his best when doing so, but I am concerned that his great improvisational skills were due in large part to the familiarity and the amount of reps he had with Butt, Chesson, and Darboh. With so many new faces surrounding him, will he be able to replicate this success?

As the season progresses, I believe pass pro will drastically improve (assuming it starts as we are projecting) due to the chemistry across the line. Once each player learns and understands the tendencies, strengths, and weakness of each other, this cohesive unit could peak at the right time.

Nick: What’s the year Michigan really, finally produces the best offensive line in the Big Ten? And what are you hoping for in the ‘18 recruiting class as far as the offensive line is concerned?

Eric: It’s been a LONG time since they’ve been the best. Hard to put a guess there since there are going to be some other great lines in the B1G. On the recruiting side, per the last round table, not sure why we’d use 2 slots in this class on QBs when we are going to have bigger depth issues down the road at OL and somewhat at DB. Let’s get a couple of studs to grow with Ruiz, Bredeson and (hopefully) Filiaga.

Jared: Realistically, the first year that is going to be achievable is 2019. By then you will have a line made up of juniors and seniors with guys like Ruiz, Onwenu, and Bredeson as your studs. Other guys like Joel Honigford, Andrew Stueber, and Emil Ekiyor will have chances to lock down some of the other open spots. Chuck Filiaga living up to his billing will be huge, and I fully expect him to be a player.

I still think we are missing the prized LT recruit that can put this position group over the top, and I think that is the number one priority for the 2018 recruiting class (or maybe tight end). If we land a pair of contributors at tackle in this recruiting class, this will be a top 3 offensive line in the Big Ten, possibly as soon as 2018.

Andrew: Being an optimist is my cross to bear, so I will say Michigan can be an elite offensive line in 2018. The offseason addition of Greg Frey will prove to be invaluable as this group develops an identity of being smashmouth, yet versatile. As far as recruiting, I’m with Jared. One coveted LT could prove to be the catalyst that brings my optimistic vision to fruition.

Nick: And, kind of an ambiguous last question for you guys - do you expect Michigan to pass the ball more in 2017, run the ball more or stay about the same?

Having Pep Hamilton here could help boost the passing game a bit, and we have a more experienced and talented room of quarterbacks than a year ago. But, we also have an offensive line that’s a lot bigger, stronger, with a huge question mark at right tackle, and the line got a coaching upgrade of their own (with Greg Frey coming to town). What do you anticipate out of the offense?

Eric: Will answer and ambiguous questions in a roundabout way. It will be a really good sign for our line and our overall prospects if we are running more. If the running game is clicking (and we have the RB horses for it to be), Harbaugh is going to keep going to it.

Poll

What do you think? How will Michigan’s offense look next year?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Run the ball more
    (468 votes)
  • 12%
    Pass the ball more
    (104 votes)
  • 32%
    About the same as last year
    (275 votes)
847 votes total Vote Now

Jared: I think this ends up being our best year of running the football since Denard Robinson, except this time it will be actual running backs doing all the damage on the ground. This is year 3 with both Harbaugh and Drevno coaching up the O line, a position group they were renowned for having success with at Stanford. You bring in a Greg Frey, and now you have one of the best coaching staffs in the country for developing talent on the line. I think this might be a more fundamentally sound group than we have seen in a long time, and couple that with our most impressive stable of running backs in years, and this looks like a team that is ready to run the ball down your throat.

Andrew: Michigan will be run heavy in 2017! Not to the level of an LSU who has been plagued with ineptitude at quarterback, but Michigan will seek to establish dominance on the ground. Speight is having several issues so this will ease his burden early in the season and allow him to convert easy play-action passes. Similar to how a basketball player uses a free throw to break a shooting slump, Speight can use these throws to build confidence moving forward through the season. Expect a high discrepancy early in the season between running and passing plays and the quarterback play to dictate the play calling as the season progresses.