In the summer of 2015, people salivated over Tim Drevno running the Michigan line.
“He’s taught us stuff we had no idea was even out there,” Kyle Kalis stated in 2015.
“If you like manball, there’s no better guy to have as your offensive coordinator,” wrote Brian Cook on MGoBlog.
Three years later, Jim Harbaugh forced Drevno to leave for USC, where he now coaches running backs. Enter Ed Warinner, most recently the O-Line guru at Minnesota, but most famously the architect of some deadly lines for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Warinner’s assignment in Ann Arbor is similar to when Drevno arrived: Take one of the worst offensive lines in the country and mold them into the perfect support for Harbaugh’s smash-mouth attack.
His pedigree suggests this might be the man to finally get it done.
The early days
Warinner hails from the east Ohio town of Strasburg, just south of Akron and near the recruiting hotbed on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
One thing that separates him from Drevno is his almost total focus on coaching the offensive line throughout his career. Whereas Drevno dabbled in mentoring running backs or tight ends, Warinner — with one year exceptions here and there — is a 30-year veteran of the blocking arts.
His most impressive experience comes in the last decade. He coordinated the Kansas Jayhawks during their 2007 Orange Bowl run, averaging nearly 43 points a contest. After two years at Notre Dame — where he kickstarted the careers of 2014 first-round draft pick Zack Martin and All-American Braxston Cave — he joined Urban Meyer in Columbus.
This is where it gets really good — unless you’re a Michigan fan wanting to forget the past.
The Buckeye years
Any way you slice it, Warinner’s time as a line coach down south was an unmitigated success. He inherited a line that allowed 3.54 sacks a game in 2011, cut that to 2.4 in 2012 and then 1.5 in 2013.
They maintained that ranking in the 2014-15 national title year, despite humble beginnings. In this interview on BTN, Ed Warinner shows the progression of four new starters on that team.
Those lines consisted of four current NFL players, including Lions’ left tackle Taylor Decker, Vikings’ guard Pat Elflein and Bengals’ guard Billy Price. This wasn’t a hyper-talented group coming out of high school, by the way. No player ranked in the 247 composite top 150, and Elflein and Price, in particular, were generic three-stars.
The production dipped when he started sharing offensive coordinator responsibilities with Tim Beck, further proving his prowess as a position coach.
In total, eight of his linemen were NFL Draft picks. To compare, Tim Drevno has sent just four players to the draft since his time at Stanford, despite inheriting heaps of talented prep players such as Kyle Kalis or Patrick Kugler.
The brevity of his time in Minnesota makes the evaluation harder, but there were definite signs of improvement.
The Golden Gophers ranked No. 101 in rushing offense per S&P the year before he arrived, and preceded to lose several contributors to transfers and injuries. Despite these obstacles, Minnesota upped their rushing attack to No. 44 per S&P.
P.J. Fleck’s first team in Minneapolis threw the ball barely more than the service academies last year, so there’s not much to glean from Warinner’s development of their pass pro.
An assistant coach from Dakota High in Macomb recently posted a video of Warinner’s lectures on blocking concepts.
Michigan OL Coach Ed Warriner: "Stay on the (Inside Zone) double team forever, until you can smell the LBs breath. And if you can't displace them, then space them (splits). pic.twitter.com/sWuP0fZVuH— James Light (@JamesALight) February 26, 2018
Warinner is able to utilize zone-blocking concepts after nearly a decade working with Urban Meyer — as well as Brian Kelly in South Bend. However, as seen in the first play against Michigan State, it’s not an east-to-west zone scheme in the vein of Greg Frey. The dual double-teams is a classic power concept, and one that should mesh well with Harbaugh’s style.
Speaking of Michigan State, this blocking scheme perfectly counters the dreaded double-A gap blitz that tortured Al Borges and company.
When you go to the second play — which takes place in the 2015 Sugar Bowl against Alabama — two things are apparent. First, this is the same offensive line that struggled mightily against the likes of Navy and Virginia Tech earlier in the year. By the end of the year, they were gashing a Nick Saban-led defense to the tune of 281 yards at 6.7 yards a pop.
Second, he mentions you create running lanes in two ways. “If you can’t displace them, then space them.” This means if the line can’t move defenders out of running lanes, the way to compensate is to open up the splits between linemen. This picture of Kansas State illustrates the point.
The concept here is if defenders overcompensate to fill those gaps in the splits, the offense can hit the outside flanks for bigger plays. It’s encouraging for Warinner to bring this up, as it shows flexibility. If the line hasn’t developed to the point where they’re bulldozing all obstacles in their path, Warinner will adjust the scheme accordingly.
Warinner develops linemen at an elite level, so it’s fair to project he will transform Michigan’s hogs from below-average to at least competent.
Michigan’s current line features just as much talent, if not more, than the 2014 Ohio State front five. If he guides them to a level of anywhere approaching that ‘14 Buckeyes line, this offense becomes dangerous.
Beyond player development, his blocking schemes fit with Harbaugh’s “manball” goals. He displays expertise in zone-blocking, as well as power concepts, and can adapt as necessary.
With Notre Dame only a month-and-a-half away, the only question is if Warinner can reverse the negative inertia of the Drevno-era in time for Sept. 1.