Michigan has a tradition unlike many schools when it comes to the offensive line, boasting numerous All-Americans, and even a former U.S. President played center in Ann Arbor.
In 2015, the unit, much like the entire offensive, looked to get back to its roots and simplify the run-blocking schemes. In the first game against Utah, guys struggled to get where they needed to go and looked lost. Consequently, Michigan was only able to pick up 76 yards on 29 carries, which comes out to measly 2.6 yards per attempt.
Throughout the rest of the year, the offensive line play got better and better, and while it wasn't elite, it was definitely serviceable. Against Florida in the Citrus Bowl, everything seemed to gel. Running backs had huge holes to run through, and it allowed Michigan to rack up 225 yards on one of the best defenses in the country. They will look to build on that through fall camp and into the regular season.
Returning four starters, Fox Sports ranked Michigan as having the 4th (!) best returning unit in the country. Let's take a look at who is back and what to expect from the presumptive first unit.
LT, Grant Newsome
#77 | Sophomore | 6-7, 318 pounds | McLean, Virginia
With Mason Cole sliding inside to center to replace Graham Glasgow, Newsome looks to be the starter at left tackle, with everything we have seen so far indicating that another #77 will be protecting the edge.
Newsome was good enough to crack the two-deep as a true freshman, coming in for jumbo sets and unbalanced formations this past year. While he seemed to struggle a bit in the spring game, most are hoping thats an indication of how good Taco Charlton is rather than Newsome's shortcomings.
However, Newsome is a big, strong, athletic player who should be able to adapt to the speed of things quickly. By all accounts, he is a very smart guy, so he looks to be able to learn on the fly. Add in that the first three games of Michigan's schedule are not very daunting, and he will have adequate time to get his feet wet as a left tackle at Michigan.
LG, Ben Braden
#71 | Senior | 6-6, 335 pounds | Rockford, Michigan
Braden went from being the most scrutinized starter early last season, to being one of the more stable starters on the offensive line. His improvement from the Utah game to the Florida game was easily one of the most impressive transformations on the team. Not at the level of the Jake Rudock transformation, but very impressive nonetheless.
Braden should continue his solid play and continue improving on a game to game basis. If he improves like he did last year, he could be a very, very good player by November.
C, Mason Cole
#52 | Junior | 6-5, 305 pounds | Tarpon Springs, Florida
The best returning offensive lineman on Michigan's roster, Cole moves to center from left tackle after the departure of Graham Glasgow. Cole looks like a prototypical center, and has the smarts and experience to make it as smooth of a transition as possible.
His run blocking last year was impressive, and his pass-blocking should be better as well, as he will not be isolated in one-on-one situations nearly as much as he was as a left tackle.
Cole is on the Rimington watch list, even though he has not played a game at center in his two years at Michigan. While watch lists can sometime include everyone and their mother, that shows the amount of respect Cole has. Michigan should be fine at center this season.
RG, Kyle Kalis
#67 | Senior | 6-5, 305 pounds | Lakewood, Ohio
Kalis has not lived up to his five-star billing during his Michigan career. He has shown flashes, but for the most part it has been inconsistencies that have plagued him during the past three years.
Once heralded by many as one of the most college-ready offensive line prospect in years, Kalis has struggled to be a solid starter at Michigan, and if it were up to most Michigan fans, they'd have someone else in the right guard spot.
However, with another year of being coached up by Tim Drevno, Kalis should be able tap into some of that potential that made him a 5-star back in 2012. Though, he seemed to be the weakest link during the Citrus Bowl, so it looks to be a toss-up.
RT, Erik Magnuson
#78 | Senior | 6-6, 205 pounds | Carlsbad, California
Magnuson was one of the more steady options on the offensive line last year. Not great, but pretty good would be an adequate way to describe Magnuson's play last season.
Magnuson is reminiscent of former Michigan right tackle Michael Schofield. That's not to say Magnuson will go onto start for a Super Bowl champion, but he is a solid player that will provide stability on the right side of the offensive line.
The starters seem to be set with those five guys, though David Dawson has been getting run with the ones, and it would be only a mild surprise to see him take over the right-guard spot. The Cass Tech product is in his fourth year with the program, so one would think this would be the year to take the next step. Juwann Bushell-Beaty is another guy who could compete at the left tackle spot, though we haven't seen too much from him. Newsome was the first guy up after the starting five last year. That seems to be pretty telling.
Patrick Kugler is another guy that Michigan fans have been waiting on to breakthrough to the starting unit, but hasn't been able to put it together. While the coaches have said he's been solid, Cole has been better through the spring and summer. He would be a viable option in case of injury and could start next year.
Nolan Ulizo is a second year player that, while not being a major factor this year, could be in the team's future plans in 2017 and beyond. One player Michigan seems to be very high on is Jon Runyan Jr., who should be in discussion for a starting job in 2017.
Early returns on freshmen Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu have been very good, as it seems both guys could step in immediately if Michigan was in a dire situation. Luckily they are not, but having the option is a good thing. Both will have opportunities to shine in years to come.