The pride of Paw Paw, Michigan, Karsen Barnhart has been forced to earn his playing time in each of his first three seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, and this fall will be no different.
Barnhart has shown he can be a versatile backup, reliable starter, and even an All-Big Ten caliber player. Whichever role he is tasked with this season, Barnhart will remain one of the most valuable offensive linemen on Michigan’s roster that is once again loaded up front.
The Story so far
Barnhart came to Michigan in the fall of 2019 and immediately made an impact. Recruited as a tackle, Barnhart quickly proved his merit and worked his way into the three-deep in a talented offensive line room. The freshman appeared in two games at left tackle (Middle Tennessee State, Rutgers) and also played on special teams during his first year on campus.
During his sophomore season, Barnhart started four games at left tackle and appeared at right tackle in another due to injuries along the line. The 2020 season was a disaster for the team, but it allowed Barnhart to gain pivotal reps on both sides of the offensive line and perfect a rare ambidextrous approach to O-line play.
In 2021 under first-year offensive line coach Sherrone Moore, Barnhart moved inside to guard, but not exclusively. Barnhart is one of those rare players who can play tackle, guard, and on either the left or right side of the line, giving him plenty of routes to playing time.
Barnhart appeared in 10 games as a junior, including eight on the offensive line. Against Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, Barnhart played relief snaps at left tackle.
Against Nebraska, he played relief snaps at left guard and started there against Michigan State and Northwestern. Barnhart’s versatility and skillset allowed Moore and Michigan’s offensive line to overcome injuries and earn the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line.
Last season, the unit defended its Joe Moore Award and Barnhart was again an essential piece. Although he lost a fall camp position battle to Trente Jones at right tackle, Barnhart became the pivotal sixth offensive lineman who could play at four of the five positions and it didn’t take long before Barnhart was called in to start.
In the very first game of the season, due to an injury to Ryan Hayes, Barnhart started at left tackle. Hayes returned the following week and Barnhart was again relegated to a reserve role, at least until Week 6 when Jones went down with an ankle injury against Indiana.
Barnhart excelled in Jones’s absence and in his first career start at right tackle the following week, Michigan ran for 418 yards and racked up 563 yards of offense against Penn State. Even when Jones was cleared to return from injury, Barnhart did not relinquish his starting role because he and the entire unit were playing at such a high level.
Barnhart helped bookend the best unit in the country and despite only starting half the season, Karsen still managed to earn All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors and win the Michigan team award for the most improved offensive player.
Outlook for 2023
Another year, another positional battle. Barnhart is poised to compete with LaDarius Henderson for left tackle and Trente Jones for right tackle starting responsibilities. However, coming off last season, Barnhart appears to be the favorite to start at right tackle, but that comes with an asterisk.
Being a versatile and durable lineman means that if either guard or Henderson goes down, Barnhart will fill in for them and Jones will slide in at right tackle. Jones doesn’t have the ability Barnhart does to play up and down the line of scrimmage, and that is what makes him such a valuable piece on this line.
It is rare to find a player that’s both a utility plug-and-play lineman and an All-Big Ten talent, but Barnhart pulls it off. This season, expect to see more of Barnhart on the right side, maybe some on the left, and hell, maybe even one or two cameos at center.
Barnhart’s versatility is an underlying strength of Michigan’s “Great Wall,” and could prove to be the pivotal piece that puts the team over the top in the College Football Playoff.