U-M O-line not living up to its expectation

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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At Michigan, the expectation is for the position.

Meaning: Personnel doesn’t matter, opponents don’t factor in and the same is expected from the All-American as the walk-on.

This is the Michigan expectation and the player and group either reach it, or they don’t -- it’s pass-fail.

And Michigan’s offensive line? It hasn’t lived up to that expectation.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThe Titans' Mike Martin said he's confident that Taylor Lewan, his former teammate at Michigan, won't present the team with any off-field issues.
Heading into last week’s Michigan State game, the Wolverines’ best five -- outside of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield -- still seemed up for grabs. And in the 29-6 loss to Michigan State, in which the Wolverines accounted for -48 rushing yards and allowed seven sacks, the expectation and the players didn’t seem to even be on speaking terms.

“It’s a youth problem as much as anything,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “The only fix is the experience.”

However, the only problem is that experience isn’t exactly a luxury the Wolverines will be afforded.

With Nebraska coming to Ann Arbor this weekend, then road trips to Northwestern and Iowa before Michigan closes the season at home with Ohio State, there isn’t a lot of time for the Wolverines to gain that experience.

And they certainly don’t have enough time to have a cram session for the experience they should’ve gained over the first 10 weeks.

Hoke pointed to that inexperience partly as a result of the situation he inherited at Michigan.

Between Rich Rodriguez’s recruiting and some attrition, there were just eight scholarship offensive linemen at Michigan. In the 2011 class, Hoke was able to sign two offensive linemen. Of those two, just Chris Bryant, who started two games at left guard this season, remains.

In 2012, four offensive linemen signed with Michigan. Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis started six games at right tackle while redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson has started one at right guard. Ben Braden and Blake Bars have each appeared as backups in one game.

Hoke’s 2013 class proved to be the most impressive O-line haul with six members, five of whom were ESPN 300 members. True freshman Kyle Bosch has appeared in two games, making his first start against Michigan State.

Bosch was an early enrollee but he made the jump from practice player to starter, which is extremely rare on the offensive line. In the perfect world, Hoke would be able redshirt every freshman because he had enough depth in front of them. Bosch showed enough progress and production that Hoke decided he should get in the lineup now.

“I think I’d be wrong if I didn’t say it takes a little developing physically and mentally because of the position,” Hoke said. “I’d also be wrong if I didn’t say there are guys who have done it and guys who have done it at a quicker pace.”

Bosch, like Magnuson and Graham Glasgow, have displayed that quicker pace but even though they’ve done that, the offensive line has yet to gel.

“Offensive line is so much learning and chemistry -- screwing something up, fixing it, working with the guy next to you,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “That’s why as much as we didn’t like having to shuffle these guys all year, you have to find the five that are doing the best job. Until you do, you’re doing the team an injustice if you’re keeping a guy in there that’s not doing the job.”

Borges said he’s confident with the five he has in there right now. Yes, the five who allowed seven sacks and accounted for -48 rushing yards seem to be the group going forward.

That was a failing grade. But after that, with five more tests remaining this season, there’s really nowhere to go but up.

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