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Jim Harbaugh names unlikely player as team’s best OL this fall camp

With the RT battle ongoing, it sure is surprising to hear this player be the best OL this fall so far.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Fiesta Bowl Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The strength of the Michigan Wolverines’ 2023 team appears to be what the strength was over the last two seasons — the offensive line. Through two weeks in fall camp, the competition has been fierce from the left side to the right side, as no positions other than the two guard spots have been solidified just yet.

As of now, we are penciling in transfers LaDarius Henderson (Arizona State) and Drake Nugent (Stanford) to be the starting left tackle and center, respectively, for the Wolverines in 2023. It would be unwise to write their names down in anything but pencil, as Jim Harbaugh mentioned about 10 players during his media session on Tuesday he would deem as starter-worthy. In fact, the starting positions likely won’t be decided until a couple games into the season, much like the quarterback position last season.

But one offensive lineman has risen above the rest so far during camp, according to Harbaugh, and he’s a player you probably wouldn’t have anticipated being the answer — Swiss Army Knife Karsen Barnhart.

“If I had to pick the best one right now so far through 12, 13 days through camp, Karsen Barnhart is having the best camp so far,” Harbaugh said.

My above comment is no knock on Barnhart, by the way. He’s been stellar over the last two seasons as a high-quality contributor to both Joe Moore Award-winning offensive lines. He started his career on the left side, having played both left tackle and left guard. He transitioned to the right side last season and took over for an injured Trente Jones against Indiana in early October. Jones worked through his injury, but Barnhart never conceded his newly-acquired starting position.

Due to his contributions in 2022, Barnhart was named Michigan’s Most Improved Player on offense and helped pave the way for a second straight Joe Moore Award.

With Jones back and healthy, and former Stanford Cardinal Myles Hinton also transferring in to compete at tackle, Barnhart has some stiff competition. However, Barnhart’s experience up and down the line may be giving him a leg up in the competition.

“Karsen’s ability — his versatility, could play any position. He could play left, he could play right, he could play guard — (he) has (played guard) — and he could even play center. So developing that same versatility with the other guys as well is a priority,” Harbaugh said.

It sounds like Barnhart has earned significant playing time yet again in 2023, but it may not exactly be at right tackle. Harbaugh noted the four “starting” tackles right now are Barnhart and Henderson at left, and Jones and Hinton at right. They are interchangeable by the day, but it appears Barnhart is pushing Henderson at left tackle. With the competition likely going into the regular season, it sounds possible for Barnhart to be this year’s left tackle.

Of course, the Wolverines brought in Henderson to be Hayes’ replacement, but Barnhart has been giving him, and the rest of his offensive line teammates, hell this fall camp.

Is it possible we see Barnhart at left tackle this year? Yes, but it’s also very possible he sticks at right tackle and we see Henderson be the starter at left, as predicted before fall camp even began. But the fact Barnhart is pushing Henderson to begin with is a great thing for the team and for the competition. It’s a good problem to have, as Harbaugh put it.