Football is a sport where conditioning to the collisions that take place in shoulder pads are a critical part of the process in getting ready for a season. In a normal year, the Michigan Wolverines would have had padded spring practices and a full summer camp, usually about a month or so, where pads are entered into the equation.
With the coronavirus pandemic altering the Big Ten’s plans for a full season, padded sessions ahead of the Oct. 24 opener at Minnesota kicked off around Oct. 1 — less than four weeks before kickoff. Given that Michigan has breaking in an offensive line with four of five new starters, that has not been an ideal development, but it is one that the conference as a whole has dealt with nonetheless.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon and explained the work that was put in to develop a rather green and inexperienced group that has had to find different ways to come together.
“Some of them aren’t that young,” Warinner said. “(Andrew Stueber and Chuck Filiaga) are fourth-year guys. (Andrew) Vastardis is a fifth-year guy. They just don’t have a lot of game experience, but they’re not young. So they’ve been in the system. Jalen (Mayfield) is a veteran, but everybody else is pretty young. So how to bring them all together, how to develop their skills, how to get them playing fast and do it without equipment on... we’ve we came up with some pretty good things. I think we fell into some things that started really working for us, so we’ve got a good rhythm going in our individual and periods where we work by ourselves, and then we just carry that over to pads. I’ve been around long enough to know how to get a group ready in pads, but we had a shorter window. Normally we have a month of pads to get a team ready (and) this year with the way that they set up when pads could start, it was about three weeks. But it’s all been good.
“(We) just have to be creative. Use different methods, different techniques. And it forces you to be better with your feet and your hands. You don’t use your shoulders and headgear as much. So actually, you’re learning a safer way to play football before you put on the protective gear. Sometimes guys use their shoulders and helmets more than you really want them to because offensive line is somewhat about movement, but a lot about control. How to control defenders, and sometimes it’s about movement, too. When you can double team people, then it’s about movement. When it’s one on one, it’s usually about control.
“So I think what we’ve developed is better footwork, better hand placement, better use of our hands. Better eye tracking. I call it using our eyes to find where we need to be and then as you put the pads on, then the next step is the impact with the pads and the helmets get involved in that some. We try not to be helmet blockers. We want to block with our eyes. But our helmet happens to be attached to our eyes and our heads. So you know there are collisions, but I think it taught them how to do things the right way in the safest right way.”
Michigan is start Ryan Hayes at left tackle, Chuck Filiaga at left guard, Andrew Vastardis at center, Andrew Stueber at right guard and Jalen Mayfield at right tackle. Karsen Barnhart will be the first tackle off the bench with Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan also factoring at guard, per Warinner’s meeting with the media.
The first we will see of this group will be Saturday night in a national televised game at Minnesota set for a 7:30 p.m. ET kick on ABC.