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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
OL depth is coming for Michigan

By Tom VanHaaren

In the past two recruiting classes, Michigan has landed more ESPN 150 offensive linemen than the previous four combined. Depth was key for Michigan, but adding quality players in the trenches is going to pay dividends for the offense in the very near future.

It was crucial for Michigan to have success along the line, not only because depth was thin but because it was a necessity for Michigan's offensive transition to a pro-style offense.

The main focus has been at quarterback, wide receiver and running back, but the offensive line is just as important for Michigan to have success going forward. Having the right type of lineman was essential for the coaching staff with these past two recruiting classes.

Taylor Lewan
Having Taylor Lewan back at tackle for his senior season will help in the transition for Michigan's offensive line.
"The two common threads are that these kids all finish and play nasty. Almost every one of the kids we’ve gotten the past two years have played defense at a high level," offensive line coach Darrell Funk said. "That mentality you love as a line coach. I’ve had some really good offensive linemen who were really complacent and really didn’t have that stinger. But man, if they had that little extra edge to get after people, it helps you because when you’re trying to play physical, that mentality comes up."

The 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes were so vital because outside of those players, Michigan only has four scholarship offensive linemen. That means that some of the younger members of the team will already be among the two-deep on Michigan’s depth chart.

That also means there will be plenty of inexperience along the line this coming season for the Wolverines. Moving players around isn’t abnormal, but finding the right chemistry is what’s key early on.

“The hard part of it is they are all inexperienced and all playing next to each other. As long as you can get the center right, then you’ve got two tackles to guide the guards a little bit. That’s huge,” Funk said. “The good part of it is if we identify the three that are going to be there and they rep and they rep and they rep. You think about it and they’ll all at least have three years of eligibility, if not four, and you’re going to be talking about how midway through the season how well they’ve jelled and talk about next year.”

Having young players initially might come with a learning curve, but it gives Michigan a chance to have some consistency for the next few seasons.

That factor will help in future recruiting as it will mean Michigan is caught up in terms of depth. The coaches have taken 10 prospects in the last two classes, something Funk says is not a trend that is likely to continue.

“I don’t think that’s ever the norm: four, five or six guys. When you get to healthy numbers up front, and I mean, there were a couple voided classes -- I think it’s the junior class with no scholarship guys,” he said. “We addressed that and we told the kids we should be at 15 or 16 scholarship linemen, and when we got here we were at eight or nine. So we’ve addressed it and now you get in that healthy mode, then you kind of take enough just to keep a class going, whether it’s two, three or maybe the occasional four.”

Going into the next season Michigan will have 14 scholarship linemen, so the coaches have gotten very close to that healthy 15 number. The offense will lose Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield after next season, which means the number will be back down to 12.

That leaves three or four spots for the 2014 class. Despite the lower numbers, the coaching staff is still hoping to reel in top-ranked prospects to continue building competition. There are no 2014 offensive line commitments as of now, but as spring and summer gets closer, Michigan could once again boast a top-ranked offensive line haul.