O-line works through problems in bye week

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Michigan’s first bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. With its performances against Akron and UConn, a run game that hasn’t really gotten going and a pass game that has struggled mightily, the Wolverines are getting to the root of their problems.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan coach Brady Hoke doesn't rule out a lineup change -- or two -- in his offensive line.
And a lot of times, that involves looking at the offensive line.

Michigan knew it would be young up front with three brand-new interior O-line starters -- left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis -- and while the struggles might not have shown up as much against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, they did against Akron and UConn.

So if there seems to be a place on offense that a new starter might emerge by the time the conference season hits, the offensive line might not be a bad bet.

“I think the three guys in the middle [of] the offensive line are always something that we look at,” coach Brady Hoke said. “There are some guys who have played well in there, but there’s great competition behind them. So if a guy has a good practice, good couple days, you may move him up.”

That’s a lot of pressure to put on three very young guys, but Hoke said that so far they’ve responded well to pressure.

But it wouldn’t just affect the interior line. Obviously, Hoke can’t make changes there without having it also affect left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield.

But Lewan said he would be open to moving guys around or bringing news guys in if that’s what it takes to get the offensive line back to a Michigan standard.

“All of the offensive linemen on this team are great guys, as far as character, and if the coaches believe that another guy should get a shot, I’m going to work with him as much as I can,” Lewan said. “My job is to get this offensive line right, to get this team right.”

But he has also seen good, promising performances out of the youthful O-line.

Lewan said that he has seen intensity in the group, which is often a big jump to make, but that it hasn’t been quite as consistent as he wants it to be, nor has it always matched the intensity of their coaching staff.

“I saw a huge sense of urgency in those young guys [against UConn],” Lewan said. “Those guys are starting to build their legacy and build what they want in the future. ... I think it really clicked for them in the second half of the game.”

But the problem is that it’s taking a while for it to click, and Michigan doesn’t really have a lot of time left. With Big Ten play starting next weekend, the Wolverines know they’ll have to be perfect, or close to it, if they want a chance to play for the conference championship.

This bye week was well-timed to give the Wolverines a chance to try out a few new lineups. Perhaps Ben Braden, Chris Bryant or Erik Magnuson will get a shot on the O-line.

However, there will be growing pains because those players have even less game experience than Michigan’s current starting group.

Lewan said that maybe the younger guys are thinking too much about the pressures and the O-line gradings and how each step affects them down the road. It’s natural for a younger guy to think of those things as he’s fighting to secure a spot in the starting line or rotation. But if Michigan wants to have an offensive line that is effective, Lewan thinks they might just have to get rid of ... thinking.

“There comes a time when you have to be a student of the game, you have to watch film, you have to know what you’re doing,” Lewan said. “But when you’re on the football field, you kind of just have to turn your brain off and play football.”

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