If you are old enough to remember the Bo and Carr days, then you know when Michigan was known for their smashmouth, hard-nose, downhill football. One of the true missing links mostly in the past decade or so to making Michigan a powerhouse again like in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s is a solid offensive line to control the line of scrimmage.
While Brady Hoke helped bring back the pro-style football that was missing under RichRod, it never got back to where many had hoped due to nagging problems with the offensive line. But now, hopefully, that’s about to change.
While the team is halfway through fall camp, let’s dive in and break down the offensive line, but also evaluate what players are saying about this group.
My Offensive Line Prediction Breakdown
While we may not know the starting lineup until they take the field against Florida, the offensive line will likely include at least Mason Cole, Ben Bredeson and Patrick Kugler with several others competing for two spots.
How I see it based on what we know in mid-August.
Left Tackle: Mason Cole (back-up: Nolan Ulizio)
Left Guard: Ben Bredeson (back-up: Cesar Ruiz)
Center: Patrick Kugler (back-up: Cesar Ruiz)
Right Guard: Michael Onwenu (back-up: Cesar Ruiz)
Right Tackle: ...
Let’s break this last one down more. The right tackle is a big question mark trying to find the guy to replace Erik Magnuson, who held that position the last two years. A few of the players competing in camp right now are Jon Runyan Jr., Nolan Ulizio and Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
Greg Frey is happy with such a fierce competition going on right now.
"As far as those things go, our focus is on us and developing these kids and correcting things. Its been a pleasure watching them grow, excel and become a team. Everybody’s doing really good things and everybody’s doing some things you want to do better.
“At this point in camp really legs are tired, guys are fighting, and so it’s a situation where you’re really trying to bring the stress level up and individually correct and develop, and as we get through camp I think separation occurs and it goes from there. It’s a little too early to tell right now."
He also commented about guys competing for right tackle position based on what he’s seen.
"You take Jon Runyan, very fluid, good athlete, probably one of the better athletes on the offensive line, and try to harness his strengths into where he helps us win. Then you take Bushell-Beatty, who’s a big, monstrous guy and cares a lot, pushing through, doing some good things, so we’re trying to put them in a position where they can be the best player they can be.
“And so what’s stuck out most on those guys is their enthusiasm to learn and just that willingness to attack, take constructive criticism and respond, and with both of those guys it’s been really, really fun to watch.”
So, What Are Players Saying?
Mason Cole commented last week about some of the guys competing hard for a starting job. "Everyone, especially on the offensive line, is coming out every day willing to work and compete their butts off, and it’s exciting to see. Juwann (Bushell-Beatty) is playing really well. Mike Onwenu’s playing really well. (Jon) Runyan’s playing really well. Nolan Ulizio’s playing really well. Freshmen are playing really well. It’s exciting to see them compete every day, and they’re still battling.”
Chris Evans was asked about the O line and had high praise about their development. "I love running behind them and make sure to tell them how much I appreciate them." 2017 is his year to shine and is in a great position to one of the best running backs Michigan’s had in a while, and also fill a leadership role on the team as well.
Rashan Gary has been impressed by the guys competing on that side of the ball. "Offensive line is looking good, looking good. Iron sharpens iron, there’s a battle every day going against them. We win some, they win some, so iron sharpens iron — we’re going back and forth.”
Maurice Hurst has been very impressed with this group. "They’re doing great. The O-line has been probably the most improved position group so far, and I think they’re really developing some depth with some of the younger guys that just got in.”
So, What Does This Mean?
While the offensive line positions are not all established yet, one thing is certain, this group will be followed and evaluated closely with high expectations to improve over the course of the season. A lot of fans see this group as the biggest potential road block to another great season, and right tackle in particular is still a glaring question mark.
But, this group has talent, there’s a little depth (especially once the freshmen start to get settled in halfway through the season), and they have a decent amount of experience, too. I like our chances, but they still have a ways to go.