ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Taylor Lewan heard the confusion and saw the stunned expression from almost everyone he knew.
From family. From friends. From an old woman in a local Kroger who approached Lewan and then proceeded to call him an idiot for sticking around at Michigan another year.
“People,” Lewan said, “think I’m crazy.”
When someone turns down the potential for millions of dollars to play a violent, unforgiving game for free for another year, the questioning makes sense. Lewan understands that. He appreciates that.
But it was his decision, and Michigan and Lewan's coaching staff are happy for it.
Lewan’s return offered immediate dividends for Michigan. It could place him easily at left tackle, not worry about the results, and focus on shoring up the interior of an offensive line which has no experience at all.
Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said recently he’d like to have at least one, maybe two of the spots solidified by the time fall camp starts. In a perfect scenario, the Wolverines would have their entire offensive line set by the end of spring, but that seems unlikely, considering the emphasis coach Brady Hoke has placed on summer development in the past.
That development aided Michigan last season when it eventually leaned on Elliott Mealer to start at center and Ricky Barnum to start at left guard after the two entered fall camp at each other’s eventual positions.
“You’d always like to [have everything set],” Hoke said. “But summer development will be important. A guy like Kyle Kalis and how much he has leaned down from body fat and how he’s running and doing all those things.”
With Lewan back, Michigan now has an added coach in some ways. The 6-foot-8, first-round NFL draft prospect didn’t return to school with any other goal other than winning a Big Ten title. His personal draft stock can only go so much higher -- he was a potential top-10 pick after last season -- so it was solely for his own enjoyment and the benefit of others when he returned.
And the boost from his return will bear out the most in the middle of Michigan’s offensive line, where he’ll have to spend time tutoring Kalis, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, among others, by explaining various combination blocks and making sure the entire line works in tandem when it needs to.
“Anything I can do to help those guys, those tackles, those guards,” Lewan said. “Ask me to help them with sets, kind of keeping the inside foot forward and the post foot strong. Those kind of things I am helping guys with.”
There are things Lewan himself can improve as well, but they are mostly small things -- better diet, more sleep, staying in shape -- that likely would have needed attention whether he was playing at Michigan or in the NFL.
Lewan took out an insurance policy for an undetermined amount of money to safeguard against any catastrophic injury which could derail a professional career, but otherwise, Lewan is no different than any of his other teammates.
But as Lewan showed two months ago, the NFL can wait. He watched Michigan’s pro day earlier this month to show support for his former teammates and also imagined some times and reps he might be able to accomplish in his head.
And he’ll get that chance in about a year, but for now, he doesn’t have any regrets at all.