Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 87 of 179

86 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW OFFENSIVE LINE BY JOHN BORTON M ason Cole logged two starting sea- sons at left tackle for the Wolver- ines, before making a successful switch to center in 2016. When Michigan kicks off the season against Florida Sept. 2, the senior might be right back where he started. It's a testament to Cole's value that he pos- sesses the versatility to plug in where needed. It's a commentary on Michigan's present is- sues at tackle that the junior wasn't still firmly planted at the tip of the offensive spear in the Wolverines' spring game April 15. It's safe to calculate that if sophomore left tackle Grant Newsome hadn't gone down with a serious knee injury against Wisconsin last year, he'd be a fixture at left tackle and Cole would finish out his career at center. Fleeting hopes for a Newsome return this season were quelled by head coach Jim Har- baugh in April, and the Wolverines found themselves seeking a proven blind-side pro- tector. Cole certainly fits that bill. He's started 38 consecutive games for the Wolverines, the first 25 of them at the crucial left tackle spot. A second-team All-Big Ten performer in 2016, he proved more than adequate moving to the interior of the offensive line. Asked to move back, he shrugged and com- plied. Following Michigan's spring game, Cole insisted he'd play wherever it helps the team the most. Those are words coaches love to hear. Al- though new tackles and tight ends coach Greg Frey avoided any specific player evaluations in public this spring, he singled out Cole and two other Wolverines up front for how they've gone about their business. "Guys are working hard," Frey said. "They have dreams and goals, as do we. The oppor- tunity for them to develop is there. We have great leadership in Mason Cole, [sophomore left guard] Ben Bredeson and [fifth-year se- nior center] Pat Kugler. These guys are good people who work hard." That's what it's all about, from now until the start of the season, Frey noted. "From the day spring started to the day the season starts, it's a constant, daily drive to get better," he said. "We're going to add some guys come summer, freshmen and other people coming in. You find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you con- tinue to attack them and continue to move forward. "We're going to be dynamic." Former Michigan offensive lineman Doug Skene — a regular contributor to TheWol- verine.com — has been a part of some domi- nating up-front crews and has five Big Ten championship rings to show for it. He insisted the move of Cole looks essen- tial for the Wolverines this fall. "I know if they move him there, he's going to be good there," Skene said. "He'll be the most talented lineman they have next year. If the greatest need is at left tackle, it's the right thing to do. "It's easier to help in the middle than it is to help out on the edge. There are a bunch of other reasons why you do it, but there are more things you can do to help a guy out at center than at left tackle. "There are ways to help out at left tackle, because when Mason started there as a fresh- man they did things. But it throws your bal- ance off. You have to continually put tight ends over there, continually slide left or con- tinually put a back over to the left side, which may inhibit some of the things you want to do offensively. "If I've got positions I've got to help with, I'm picking the center before I pick an edge." The good news for Michigan, according to Skene's take on U-M's spring game, is that Cole maintains the edge he honed at left tackle his first two seasons. "The guy is in third-and-long, second-and- long passing downs, and it looks like he's pass protecting like he never even played center last year," Skene assessed. "You don't do the deep vertical sets and kick slide backward at the center position like you do at tackle — it's different. "Imagine you're the center. You're either uncovered, with guys covering your guards, or you're covered, and they're right on top of your nose. Now you slide out to tackle, and you've got guys that are split out two, maybe three yards wide of you. There is going to be a lot of space between you and that guy before contact. "You've got to get your body into position over a longer distance and faster at left tackle QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Tim Drevno (third season) and Greg Frey (first season of second stint at U-M). Returning Starters: LT Mason Cole (38 career starts) and LG Ben Bredeson (8). Departing Starters: RG Kyle Kalis (43), RT Erik Magnuson (37) and OT/OG Ben Braden (36). Projected New Starters: C Pat Kugler (1), RG Michael Onwenu and RT Jon Runyan. Top Reserves: OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty (1), OT Nolan Ulizio, OG Stephen Spanellis and C Cesar Ruiz. Wait Until 2018: OT Grant Newsome (6). Newcomers: OT Chuck Filiaga, OT Ja'Raymond Hall, OG Joel Honigford, Ruiz and OT Andrew Stueber. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Greg Froelich (to fullback). Rookie Impact: Ruiz. Most Improved Player: Kugler. Best Pro Prospect: Cole. RewoRked And GettinG ReAdy A Key Move Highlights An Offensive Line Makeover PRESEASON ANALYSIS: OFFENSIVE LINE STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The move of senior Mason Cole to left tackle shores up a big potential weakness and gives the Wolverines a strong left side, with sophomore Ben Bredeson returning at left guard. Fifth-year senior Pat Kugler has to step up at center, and U-M must fill out the right side with strength and consistency. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ It's not bad, with size and talent going at least eight men deep. But the depth will in- volve inexperience, such as early enrollee freshman Cesar Ruiz as a potential backup center and redshirt freshman Stephen Span- ellis competing at guard. This is a roster that may need a blowout or two early for empty- ing the bench. X-FACTOR The single-biggest X-factor here has to be how Kugler steps up at center. If he's solid to good, Michigan should step forward with a line that can grow together throughout the year. If he falters, there will be some scram- bling up front. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There are too many unknowns at this point to gauge this group as anything but average. It has some good parts, but question marks remain from center to right tackle, and those won't be fully answered until the Wolverines take the field in game action. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars.

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