We know what the Michigan Wolverines are bringing to the field this spring in a lot of key areas as we continue to preview each position group entering spring football. Next up on our list is the offensive line, which as of now may be one of the biggest question marks on the roster.
Let’s get into it.
Which (key) guys are gone?
The Wolverines are going to have to replace four starters on the offensive line this spring/fall. From left-to-right, tackle Jon Runyan Jr., guard Ben Bredeson, center Cesar Ruiz (early draft entry)n and guard Michael Onwenu. The only remaining starter from last year’s group is tackle Jalen Mayfield, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season.
Interior lineman Stephen Spanellis also transferred out following the Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama. He was expected to push for time at one of the open spots in that starting group of five.
Who’s on campus for spring ball?
Michigan has 13 scholarship offensive linemen on campus in Andrew Vastardis (RS Sr.), Andrew Stueber (RS Jr.), Joel Honigford (RS Jr.), Chuck Filiaga (RS Jr.), Mayfield, Ryan Hayes (RS So.), six redshirt freshmen in Nolan Rumler, Trente Jones, Jack Stewart, Karsen Barnhart, Zach Carpenter and Trevor Keegan, and then early-enrollee and true freshman Zack Zinter.
Who joins later this summer?
Later this summer, the Wolverines will be joined by true freshmen Reese Atteberry and Jeffery Persi.
Who projects to fill out the starting five?
With so many spots to fill, playing time is up for grabs everywhere. Instead of a mish-mash of words and long paragraphs here, let’s take it position-by-position.
Offensive tackle: Nothing is set in stone officially, but it would be somewhat surprising if Mayfield (6-foot-5, 314 pounds) and Hayes (6-foot-7, 299 pounds) were not Michigan’s starters here. Hayes came in for an injured Runyan at left tackle to the start of last season and played well, enough to where there was a conversation as to if there was a chance he could stick in the starting lineup. As far as Mayfield goes, the argument can be made that he is the Wolverines’ best pro prospect next season and should be able to handle the left side if that’s the route the Wolverines wanted to go. Barnhart played with the second-team OL at tackle in the early part of last year, and Stueber cannot be forgotten about either coming off of a torn ACL.
Left Guard: Where things stand today, we have Filiaga penciled in as the starter. He is entering his fourth season with the program and is expected to get the first crack at the job. Filiaga is a massive presence at 6-foot-6, 341 pounds and certainly looks the part. Rumler, Vastardis and Barnhart are also players that could factor in here.
Center: Michigan is high on Carpenter, who is entering his second season with the Wolverines and will be a redshirt freshman. He is similar to what Ruiz was in stature at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. Vastardis and Rumler would also be in the mix here, as well.
Right Guard: Right guard is where things get kind of tricky, but if Stueber comes back and is able to move past the knee injury, he seems like one of the best five offensive lineman on the roster, at least based on the hype he was getting in his battle with Mayfield last offseason. Stueber stands at 6-foot-7, 334 pounds. Again, Rumler and Vastardis would be in the running for this spot, presumably.
So to recap, the current possible projected offensive line from left to right would be Hayes-Filiaga-Carpenter-Stueber-Mayfield. If that is the guard-center-guard combo that Michigan winds up going with, they will have two of the most athletic tackles in college football and a pretty imposing interior. Again, all of this is purely speculation at this point.
There is a lot of change here, and change can be scary. This is as good as Michigan has felt about its depth at this position group under Jim Harbaugh, however, and trust has been placed entirely in Ed Warinner, who continues to prove himself as one of the best offensive line coaches in college football. With that in mind, this is still going to be a fluid situation that takes time to totally develop. Even last year’s group struggled a bit early on as they developed in a new set of responsibilities in Josh Gattis’ offense, and that’s where this group may just wind up having a leg up on the unit’s development this time last year. It’s familiar to them.
Outside of the running backs and a handful of the wide receivers, there is a heck of a lot of new faces to work into Michigan’s offense as a whole. The biggest and most critical position battle of 2020 is who will wind up starting at quarterback between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton, but the offensive line will be right up there. The guy that winds up winning that job needs to be protected and there’s a chance we may see both of these signal-callers play, anyways. The Wolverines’ offensive line has a lot of growth to do as a group and individually to keep their quarterback upright and also be able to open up holes in the run game.
Given the bodies on the roster, the opportunities available and the position coach they have developing them, the offensive line is going to be one of my favorite units to keep track of. There is some promise here and now the work begins.