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Michigan 2022 OL Review: Back to Back

Despite injuries, the offensive line was the best in the country once again due to the depth of the squad.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Semifinal Game Fiesta Bowl Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since the trophy’s introduction in 2015, only one program had won the Joe Moore Award twice, and none of the prior winners had defended their crowns the following year.

In 2022, the Michigan Wolverines changed that — building on their victory the previous year while also forging their own legacy that’ll be long remembered in Ann Arbor.

The remarkable thing for 2022’s group of offensive linemen was their ability to never appear a man down, even in the face of multiple injuries. In contrast to 2021, which saw really only one combination of starters in the trenches for Michigan, 2022 saw a whopping six starting combinations in Michigan’s 14-game tally.

Given the sheer number of offensive linemen who made legitimate contributions to Michigan’s cause this season, I’ve identified four core groups on how to consider what each man brought to the table this season. No group is of a higher tier than the others, but are rather judged independently of each other. Here’s what those groups shake out to be:

The Anchors: Olu Oluwatimi and Zak Zinter

Out of the eight offensive linemen to have started a game in 2022 for the Wolverines, only two started every game — center Olu Oluwatimi and right guard Zak Zinter.

Oluwatimi entered the program as the crown jewel of the 2022-23 transfer class and proved to be every bit worth the hype. At year’s end, he was named a consensus first-team All-American and won both the Rimington Trophy, as the nation’s best center, and the Outland Trophy, as the nation’s best interior lineman. Despite his short tenure as a Wolverine, he is undoubtedly one of the best centers ever to have donned the winged helmet.

While Oluwatimi was a fresh face in 2022, Michigan fans were well familiar with Zinter. As one of three returning members of the 2021 Joe Moore Award winners, the pressure was on to not only match the lofty expectations set by the previous year, but to exceed them. For Zinter, this goal was obtained in spades — being the only one of the returning three named as a consensus first-team All-Big Ten member. Initially rumored to be declaring for the NFL Draft, Zinter announced he’d return for his senior season.

The Heavyweights: Trevor Keegan and Ryan Hayes

While they didn’t start every game for Michigan, left tackle Ryan Hayes and left guard Trevor Keegan commanded a lion’s share of the snaps in their positions — with Hayes starting 12 games and Keegan starting 11.

Much like Zinter carried and exceeded the expectations of 2021, so too did Hayes and Keegan develop even further into top level talents. For his efforts, Keegan was named a first-team All-Big Ten member by the coaches and a second-team member by the media, while Hayes was named second- and third-team in the same ballots.

While Hayes has accepted a Senior Bowl invite, Keegan announced his return to the program for 2023 — ensuring the guard positions are in safe hands.

The Contributors: Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones

The right tackle slot was somewhat unique among the five spots on the line for the Wolverines. While neither Karsen Barnhart nor Trente Jones started a double-digit number of games, the position was rather stable. Jones started from Week 1 to Week 6 while Barnhart took over for Jones due to injury in Week 7 and held his spot through the College Football Playoff.

Those who followed fall camp know this wasn’t a completely unexpected outcome — it was reported the pair were in a neck-and-neck competition for the starting job and while Jones was the man to beat heading into the season, co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore made it clear Barnhart would have his day as well.

With Hayes’ departure, there is now a wide open slot for both Barnhart and Jones to see the field as starters in 2023. It’s more likely Barnhart would shift to the left side than Jones — he performed admirably when filling in for Hayes at left tackle in Week 1. However, the incoming transfers of LaDarius Henderson from Arizona State and Myles Hinton from Stanford pose an intriguing wrinkle as well.

The Reinforcements: Giovanni El-Hadi and Jeffrey Persi

When the Wolverines needed guys to step up due to injury, Giovanni El-Hadi and Jeffrey Persi were the guys he called on.

Of the two, El-Hadi had more opportunities, starting three games in 2022. While part of this is simply due to positional makeups, Persi wasn’t the first choice of backup as El-Hadi had been — only being pressed into service after Barnhart became a full time starter.

While El-Hadi isn’t likely to have his spot challenged, the aforementioned transfers of Henderson and Hinton have the potential to pose a significant challenge to Persi’s place in the pecking order. Even still, his service to this year’s squad shouldn’t be forgotten.