Notebook: O-line shuffles

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
10:26
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- All fall, fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer said he was competing to win the job at left guard. But even then, there were hints of something else in his future.

On Saturday in the season opener, in the first start of his career, Mealer played not at left guard, but as Michigan’s starting center.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson and Alabama's defense
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesRicky Barnum, trying to help Denard Robinson, istarted at left guard instead of center.
Ricky Barnum, thought to be Michigan’s starting center, ended up playing left guard.

“They had been both playing a lot of center, a lot of guard,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Just felt some of the shotgun stuff with Elliott was a little better.”

Both ended up being integral parts of the offensive line.

Also, Michigan showed how it would adjust due to injury after left tackle Taylor Lewan left the game in the fourth quarter. If Lewan misses any time, right tackle Michael Schofield will move to left tackle, right guard Patrick Omameh will move to right tackle and Joey Burzynski will come in at right guard.

Injury concerns: Michigan saw two of its best players leave Saturday’s game due to injury, cornerback Blake Countess and Lewan.

Lewan, who was injured in the fourth quarter with the game no longer in doubt, could barely walk to the locker room after the game, limping badly on his right leg and eventually needing help from a staffer to reach the locker room.

Countess was injured on punt coverage in the first quarter and was seen after the game leaving the field on crutches.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke had no update on either player after the game.

Freshmen in action: The Wolverines knew they were going to use a lot of first-year players against Alabama. Depth and the overall talent level of the class they recruited necessitated it.

But if Saturday is any indication, expect to see a large youth movement at Michigan this season. At least 10 freshmen received some playing time -- linebackers Royce Jenkins-Stone, James Ross III and Joe Bolden, defensive linemen Mario Ojemudia and Ondre Pipkins, safety Jarrod Wilson, cornerback Terry Richardson, tight end A.J. Williams and running back Dennis Norfleet.

Of the 10, Norfleet and Ross III had the most significant roles. Ross III played often during base defensive packages for Michigan and made two assisted tackles. Norfleet was one of the bright spots for the Wolverines, gaining 177 yards on eight kick returns.

This and that: Josh Furman, who was named a starting kick returner on Monday and is a special teams standout for the Wolverines, did not make the trip to Arlington. When asked for a reason, Hoke just said, “He didn’t make the trip.” ... Michigan had two honorary captains for the game, former wide receiver Desmond Howard and former coach Gary Moeller. ... Michigan also had Russell Bellomy, not Devin Gardner, as its primary backup quarterback. Gardner, however, started at wide receiver.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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