Michigan Football Preview 2016

2016 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 81 of 179

80 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY CHRIS BALAS S pring football is the time to experi- ment, from position switches to implementing new ideas on offense. Quarterbacks become receivers for a day, like redshirt junior Shane Morris in the spring game. Last year, punter Kenny Allen took his shot at placekicking duties when Brendan Gibbons' eligibility was up, and he ran with it, starting all year. It's a time for "tinkering," Michigan of- fensive coordinator Tim Drevno would say, and as offensive line coach in addition to his coordinator duties, he spent his time trying to answer one of the glaring questions head- ing into spring 2016: Who would replace Graham Glasgow at center? Whoever it was, Drevno said, would have huge shoes to fill. "Graham did such a great job," the coach said of the Detroit Lions' third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. "I think he only played like nine games at center in his previous years here. He did a great job leading us, in the room he did a nice job, came out every day and wanted to compete and be the best. It was important to him." It was critical to Glasgow, too, that who- ever came next would uphold a tradition that's been somewhat overshadowed by U-M's great offensive guard and tackle tradition. For the last 40 years, starting with Walt Downing in 1977, Michigan has had at least one All-American center each decade. Two players, David Baas in 2004 and David Molk in 2011, captured the Rimington Trophy as the nation's best center. Even some of those who didn't earn All-America honors were some of the best at their craft. Steve Everitt became a first- round NFL Draft choice in 1992 after starting for four years, and Glasgow wasn't first-team All-Big Ten but might have been the conference's best at his position by the end of the 2016 season. When junior and two-year starter at left tackle Mason Cole got the nod from the bullpen this spring as one of the first to give snapping a shot, he knew just where to turn. "It was spring of my junior year of high school that I decided I was going to enroll [in college] early," Cole recalled. "I knew by the end of summer I might be done with all my credits in high school so I thought, why not go a semester early if I could? Academi- cally it helps you out; you don't have to take huge course loads. Football-wise it gives you an extra winter and spring in a college program, which is huge. "But there's a point you have to decide personally if you want to stay at home with your high school buddies or go early. So I went, and that's when I met Graham. He was like my big brother, took me under his wing." Neither had an idea at that point that ei- ther of them would ever be playing center in college. Glasgow was a guard, while Cole was already being mentioned as Michigan's potential first true freshman season-opening starter at left tackle. Three years later, Cole has been labeled his friend's likely successor in the middle of the offense. "When they talked to me about moving to center after this season, I talked to Graham first," Cole said. "I just think he played the position so well, and he helped me out a lot with technique stuff and mentally. It was good to have someone there who performed at a high level that I was close to and could ask the questions … to learn from his past experiences." A Quick Study Hanging around with 22-year-olds in Ann Arbor rather than his 17-year-old friends back in Florida proved to be key to a quick maturation process. Cole had arrived at Michigan with big goals — to play as a fresh- man at one of the most important positions on the line — and learned quickly that he was part of something much bigger than himself. So there was no hesitation two years ago when former head coach Brady Hoke asked him to start snapping, just in case they needed him in a pinch — even if it wasn't as much a priority to him as it was to Glasgow. "One thing Graham did when we first got here was come to us and say, 'I want to play center,'" Drevno recalled. "I thought, 'Wow — that's pretty neat that he came in and told me that's what he wanted to play. "You want a guy, especially nowadays with everybody playing a 3-4 defense with a nose guard, who is a big, heavy-handed, low-body girth guy to play the position to hold the nose, and he's that type of guy." At 6-5, 305 (to Glasgow's 6-6, 303), Cole also fits that bill. The coaches approached him, though, rather than the other way around. "They came to me and said they wanted to get their best players on the field, whatever combo that might be — that we are going to try you at center this spring, in addition to tackle, and see how everything works out," he recalled. "At first it was kind of an initial idea going into spring, put me there and see how it goes. That's the cool thing with spring is you have the option to try some guys at different positions and see if it works. "I think I progressed well enough that I earned Coach Drevno's trust and Coach [Jim] Harbaugh's trust, and showed that I could play there." It wasn't always easy, nor was it going to be playing against some of the Big Ten's best defensive linemen. During one play in the spring game, redshirt sophomore nose tackle Bryan Mone literally picked Cole up by his shoulder pads to move him out of the way, though Cole recovered well. "The biggest change from tackle to center, No. 1, is that things happen a lot faster," Cole said. "You've got a tackle breathing down your throat. Everyone you're going against at this level is big, strong and fast, whatever, but at center you're go- ing against heavier guys, so it's a little different personnel-wise who you are going against and who you have to beat. "But Coach Drevno does a great job teaching great technique. If you do what Coach teaches you to do, you can play any position." Cole's also not on an island as much as he MIDDLE MAN Junior Mason Cole Could Solidify The Center Position "If you do what Coach [Tim Drevno] teach- es you to do, you can play any position." COLE Cole is trying to continue a strong center tradition at Michigan that includes at least one All-American at the pivot in each decade since the 1970s and a pair of Rimington Tro- phy winners. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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