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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Five to watch in spring: OL Ben Braden

By Michael Rothstein

Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s biggest question entering the spring resides on the offensive line, where the Wolverines are replacing both guards and the center. This is important for many reasons, including they are the main conduits for blocking for quarterback Devin Gardner and whomever emerges out of the running back competition.

As Michigan saw last season, when the offensive line isn’t strong and cohesive, an offense can stall.

The most intriguing of all the offensive line prospects is redshirt freshman Ben Braden. The Rockford, Mich., native doesn’t have as much experience as some of his classmates, let alone some of the upperclassmen he’ll be competing with. But his raw potential, build and willingness to move inside if it means playing time makes him the WolverineNation No. 1 player to watch this spring.

Ben Braden
After a stellar high school career and redshirting at U-M, Ben Braden is poised to battle for playing time.
Why Braden? Braden is a natural tackle and likely will play outside by the time his career is over, but for now, Michigan needs help on the interior since the Wolverines return both their starting tackles, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. In the meantime, he will probably compete for one of the spots at guard and, if he wins it, gives Michigan a big man -- he’s 6-foot-6 -- at guard. Plus, it will give him experience, much like Schofield gained experience from playing left guard in the 2011 season while Mark Huyge manned the right tackle spot. If he is able to win the spot over natural guards like Chris Bryant, Blake Bars and others, his potential only jumps up more.

What does he have to accomplish? Win the job. Or at least show he is capable enough to be Michigan’s utility lineman this fall. This is perhaps an unfair expectation to put on the redshirt freshman, but Braden has that much potential. He also caught the attention of his former teammates, who thought he was one of the better freshmen who redshirted last season. Braden will be on a learning curve this spring, both in still picking up the nuance of playing offensive line in college with the potential of adjusting to an interior position instead of playing outside at tackle. It would be surprising to see him win a guard job this spring, but if one of them remains open heading into the fall he could emerge as the starter. He is, though, a man of intrigue for the Wolverines. Fellow tackle Erik Magnuson may also end up competing in a similar situation.