There have been plenty of solid offensive line units for Michigan since Jim Harbaugh became head coach in 2015, but none better than their output the past two seasons.
The offensive line was so good in 2021 that the late John Madden sent Jim Harbaugh a text saying how impressed he was with their execution against Ohio State.
Michigan’s line, led by offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, has won back-to-back Joe Moore Awards, which goes to the best offensive line in the nation. Michigan’s been a dominant line by recruiting the position well and hitting home runs via the transfer portal. The same formula is being concocted for the 2023 season.
Michigan’s talent along the line runs so deep that Harbaugh believes a good chunk of the backups are of starter ilk.
“I look at ten guys that are starting-caliber,” Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Day.
There seem to be two mainstays at left and right guard in Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter. Keegan’s made 23 starts in his career and Zinter’s made 31, and both were First Team All-Big Ten offensive linemen last season.
Stanford transfer Drake Nugent is competing at center with Greg Crippen,
“I think you have two starting centers. You have Drake and you have Crippen. Both are starting caliber,” Harbaugh said. “We even think they’re both All-Big Ten caliber, possibly even All-American caliber.”
Nugent logged 24 starts at center for Stanford and was a team captain last season. Per PFF, Nugent’s 84.1 run-blocking grade last year ranked third among FBS centers.
Crippen’s appeared in seven games through two seasons. Crippen was a four-star recruit and captain for IMG. Crippen didn’t allow a sack his last two seasons at IMG and his quarterback his senior year was Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy.
Harbaugh said he knows a starting tackle when he sees one, and Michigan has more than they can put on the field at once.
Stanford transfer Myles Hinton is vying to start at tackle, and Arizona State transfer LaDarius Henderson will also be looking to start at tackle. The other top options at tackle are homegrown products in Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones.
Hinton made 16 starts for Stanford while Henderson started 29 games for ASU (19 at left guard, 10 at left tackle). Barnhart has started 16 games for the Wolverines while Jones has 8 starts on his resume.
“Barnhart, Trente, Myles Hinton, and LaDarius,” Harbaugh said. “There’s four starting tackles.”
How will Michigan sort that starting line depth chart out?
Competition is going to get interesting in fall camp. A lot will be decided then. The coaching staff will let it play out and the most glaring starting lineup along the line will emerge. It could even drag into the season to be decided. A non-conference schedule to begin the season featuring East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green will allow for all of the names mentioned in this article to get a longer look.
Harbaugh that everyone as a player is “leasing at best” their starting spot.
“Leasing would be a month,” Harbaugh explained. “You got four games. If you don’t do well for four games, somebody else is possibly sitting there that could pay more rent. And you’ve got to pay the rent.”
Harbaugh went on to say that’s the nature and beauty of football, not owning a position.
“You gotta pay the rent every game.”