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Karsen Barnhart’s road to Michigan, outlook for 2021

Will he crack the starting rotation?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan at Indiana
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

The Michigan Wolverines’ offensive line was decimated with injuries in a 2020 season that was one to forget. In the stead of Ryan Hayes at the left tackle spot, Karsen Barnhart earned some valuable minutes last season as a redshirt freshman. Let’s take a look at how we got here with Barnhart and how much we will see of him this fall.

The story so far

Barnhart had a really interesting recruiting process because many debated where he belonged on the front-five. He actually played tight end in high school. The 6-foot-4, 282-pounder was destined for a move to the interior. His athleticism, intensity and strength caused many to believe he should be a left tackle at the collegiate level. While others thought a guard spot would be easier to learn as the positional change from tight end to offensive line wouldn’t be an easy one.

The Paw Paw High School alumnus was recruited heavily in the state, receiving offers from Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan before choosing his home in Ann Arbor.

The four-star recruit played twice as a freshman at left tackle in end-of-game minutes against Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers. He contributed on special teams in three games, keeping him under the restrictions for a redshirt season under the NCAA’s rules.

In 2021, the Michigan offensive line was gutted as four starters were drafted in the NFL. Some were on the Barnhart bandwagon to start on the offensive line. That was doubly-likely after Jalen Mayfield announced he was going to sit out the season due to COVID. Barnhart was projected to take his spot at right tackle.

Then, Mayfield reneged and came back to the Wolverines. Hayes locked down the left tackle position while future 2021 NFL Draft-pick Mayfield started on the right side. However, that duo would not last very long into the season. Mayfield suffered a high ankle sprain in the loss to Michigan State and Barnhart was called into action at right tackle.

Now, that didn’t last long either as Hayes also went down in the fourth quarter of the Michigan State loss. Barnhart was tasked to step in at left tackle the following week at Indiana, and started the final four games of the season protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

Outlook for 2021

Hayes is healthy again and should be good to go as a veteran left tackle for the team in 2021. A bump back to starting right tackle for Barnhart should be in motion here. However, it doesn’t come without competition. It appears that Zak Zinter, Ryan Hayes and Andrew Stueber are essentially locks to be three of the five starters. The flexibility of Zinter’s ability to play all five offensive line positions and Steuber’s experience at guard and tackle makes it difficult to properly assess who the best five will be.

If Barnhart does indeed win the starting right tackle job, the offensive line could look something like this from left-to-right: Hayes-Zinter-Vastardis-Stueber-Barnhart. However, it could just as easily be the Stueber is the best guy for right tackle and Barnhart remains the odd man out for the second consecutive season. In this scenario, Chuck Filiaga or Trevor Keegan were just too good to pass up on the inside at guard.

Either way, we should be seeing a decent amount of Barnhart this season, if healthy. He’s a fringe starter with the knowledge he has from playing some meaningful minutes a season ago. If he doesn’t start, he will probably be the first or second option off the bench in case of an injury or sloppy play. Expect to hear Barnhart’s name quite a few times in 2021.