The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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86 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW OFFENSIVE LINE BY CHRIS BALAS N ew Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner hit the ground running when he arrived at Michigan this winter. He watched some game film on the linemen he inherited, spent hours breaking down practice video and used his years of experience to determine who best fit where on the Michigan offensive line. He got their attention, redshirt junior right tackle Jon Runyan Jr. said, when he told the group how one set of his offensive linemen at Ohio State all started the first game of their rookie season in the NFL. "That excites you a little bit," Runyan said with a grin. More than anything, though, Warinner gave them a clean slate after a year in which they struggled as a group. The 2017 Wolverines were inconsistent up front, allowing 36 sacks as a unit, an average of 2.77 per game that tied for 110th out of 130 teams nationally. It was not all the line's fault, Warinner was quick to point out, given that tight ends and running backs also have pass blocking re- sponsibilities — but he chose not to focus on the past. They work hard and they care, he said, and they've improved. "I gave them all a chance to reset," Warin- ner explained during spring ball. "Now, they can show who they are and what they need to work on. "We're a work in progress, not a finished product at all, but I think everyone would say a lot of progress has been made. The defense would tell you that; the offensive linemen would tell you that; the coaches will, as well. I like where we're at and where we're headed … we just have to keep going. "I think we can be a very solid Big Ten offensive line." At least three of the five arguably have All- Big Ten potential, and a couple — junior left guard Ben Bredeson and sophomore center Cesar Ruiz — could even be All-America candidates. Bredeson returns after a solid but incon- sistent sophomore season, one in which he earned second team all-conference honors from both the league's coaches and the media. He started eight games as a true freshman and a dozen last year. Warinner's teachings and 'back to basics' mentality were beneficial for the entire line, Bredeson said, not just the young guys. "There was a significant difference this spring than there was last fall just in our tech- nique and aggression and attitude," Bredeson said. "We've obviously got things we need to clean up, and there's always room for im- provement, but it's been leaps and bounds from last year. "It was taught in a different way that is much more beneficial for learning for the younger guys. We broke the playbook down and then built it back up, instead of putting it right on. I just thought it was a much more ef- ficient tactic, because I think guys grasped it. "Before, it was kind of remembering what calls went with what, instead of understand- ing concepts. We broke the concepts down this spring." Bredeson finished spring ball at a reported 6-5, 310 pounds. His conditioning could determine his ceiling, according to former Michigan All-Big Ten offensive lineman Doug Skene, who noted Bredeson has all the tools to be one of the next Michigan greats. "One thing keeping him from being an elite level offensive lineman, from what I've seen, is his strength and conditioning," Skene explained. "I thought last year he gained a little weight, and he looked a little lethargic as the season wore. If he can keep in great shape and be light on his feet, that guy could be a dominating offensive lineman into November. "In November last year — and certainly in his freshman year — he looked like he got a little too much training table food." To the right of Bredeson at center, Michi- gan will look to replace fifth-year senior Pat Kugler with someone who hasn't played the position much, if at all. Redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanellis filled in and played fairly well for a first- year player when Kugler went down in the Outback Bowl, and he spent the majority of spring working there after practicing plenty at right guard in his redshirt year. However, sophomore Cesar Ruiz appears to be a natural at the position, and he's the man to beat in the middle after an outstanding spring. Ruiz started five games at right guard a year ago after junior Michael Onwenu went down, and Warinner said he compares favor- QUICK FACTS Position Coaches: Ed Warinner (first year at Michigan). Departing Starters: LT Mason Cole (51 career starts), C Pat Kugler (14). Returning Starters: OG Ben Bredeson (20), OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty (8), OG Michael Onwenu (9), C Cesar Ruiz (5 at RG). Projected New Starters: RT Jon Runyan Jr. Top Reserves: OT James Hudson, OT Nolan Ulizio (5 starts at RT), OG/C Stephen Spanellis, OG/OT Andrew Stueber, OG Chuck Filiaga. Wait Until 2019: OG Joel Honigford, OT Jalen Mayfield. Newcomers: Mayfield. Moved In: Hudson (from DT), OG Phillip Paea (from DT). Moved Out: OT Ja'Raymond Hall (transferred to CMU). Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Runyan. Best Pro Prospects: Bredeson, Ruiz. Making StrideS Michigan's Improvement Up Front Will Be Vital To The Offense's Success PRESEASON ANALYSIS: OFFENSIVE LINE STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ At least three of the five starters — junior Ben Bredeson, sophomore Cesar Ruiz and junior Michael Onwenu — have All-Big Ten potential, and some would argue the for- mer two boast All-America talent. Word of redshirt junior Jon Runyan Jr.'s improvement at right tackle is welcome news, but he still needs to prove himself, while left tackle re- mains a big question mark. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Regardless of who starts, there are only six players in this group with any real playing expe- rience. Redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanellis is battling for playing time at both center and guard after seeing a bit of action at both spots last year; after him there's a group of guys who have talent but are total question marks. X-FACTOR Can Juwann Bushell-Beatty or James Hud- son get the job done at left tackle? If not, Ben Bredeson might have to slide out to tackle from left guard to get the best five linemen on the field. He'd be playing out of position, and while he'd probably be okay, he could dominate at left guard. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There's enough talent here to piece together a nice offensive line, and it's past time that Michigan got back to being Michigan up front. The interior should be outstanding, but it's the tackles that will make or break this group. Depth remains a question mark, as well.

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