Entering the 2019 season, Michigan’s offensive line is expected to be one of the team’s strengths, something that hasn’t been said in a while. Four of the five starters from last season return, led by senior left guard Ben Bredeson, an All-American candidate.
Here are five questions we have at offensive line for the Wolverines in 2019:
1. Who starts at right tackle?
This position battle seems to have come down to redshirt sophomore Andrew Steuber and redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield. Both players are intriguing and have high upside.
Steuber likely has the edge, given he’s a year older and has more playing experience. He took over for Juwann Bushell-Beatty at the end of last year and there’s a good chance he’s able to secure the role going forward. At 6-foot-7, 334 pounds, Stueber fits the typical size you’d want in a tackle.
Mayfield is a bit smaller at 6-foot-5, 314 pounds, but he came in a higher rated recruit (4-star, No. 87 nationally). He’s been impressive in practice and has stood out to the coaching staff since he joined the program last year. He has minimal game experience, playing in parts of three games as a true freshman, but the raw talent is there for him to take over the right tackle job.
Right now, it would seem Steuber will get first crack at the position, but it truly seems to be a toss-up. Both will likely see plenty of action in the season opener.
2. Will Cesar Ruiz break out?
Michigan’s starting center has been seen as a future NFL player ever since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Last year, he had a solid season, but wasn’t yet elite.
Is this the season it all comes together and he dominates?
It very well may be. He’ll be next to a pair of stud guards and has all the tools he needs to break out nationally. Don’t be surprised to see this be the last year Ruiz is in a Michigan uniform, as he could play himself into the first or second round of the NFL Draft.
3. Will Jon Runyan Jr. continue his growth?
The main reason Michigan’s offensive line turned out to be so stable last year was Runyan. He came largely out of nowhere to be a very good player.
Can he continue that rise and become the league’s best tackle or put himself in that conversation? If he can, then Michigan will end up with not only the best line in the Big Ten, but one of the best in the nation. If he falls back down to earth, then trouble is on the horizon, but it’s hard to see him doing anything other than taking another step forward.
4. Is the offensive line good enough to spark a strong running game?
One of Michigan’s biggest weakness entering the season is clearly the running back position. After Chris Evans’ dismissal, the Wolverines are left with Christian Turner, Tru Wilson, Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. It will likely be a committee approach, especially early on. The hope is Charbonnet (or Turner) can establish themselves as the clear starter sooner rather than later. But regardless, Michigan needs its running game to be good no matter who is on the field.
A new running back’s best friend is an elite offensive line, which is what Michigan’s should have this season. Can the unit propel the running game to be one of the better ones in the conference? That’s what it will take to win the Big Ten. Everything is in place for that to happen, we just have to see it on the field. The argument is there to be made that the line is a stronger run blocking line than passing, which will certainly help.
5. Who is the most important backup?
This one is easy — the answer is senior backup center/guard Stephen Spanellis. He’s a man of many talents: he can fill-in more than admirably at center, but can also play guard. He’s essentially the top backup at the three interior positions.
He’s a good enough player that he likely would start on almost any other team in the Big Ten. Spanellis is a big-time luxury to have and a great representative of the university.