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Monday, November 4, 2013
Youth movement a drag on Michigan OL

By Tom VanHaaren

After Michigan’s 29-6 loss to rival Michigan State, many fans were left reeling, looking for answers, and trying to figure out a solution. The only answer, though, to Michigan’s issues might just be time.

Of the 85 players on scholarship, 57 are redshirt sophomores or younger.

Looking even further into those numbers, a big part of Michigan’s problem on offense has been along the offensive line. The Wolverines have 14 scholarship linemen on the roster and 10 of them are redshirt and true freshmen.

That’s something former Michigan running back Chris Howard believes has affected the whole team.

 Kyle Kalis
Kyle Kalis is one of a few blue-chip recruits on the Michigan offensive line who are learning the hard way in Big Ten play.
“When I first got to Michigan, I was used to running behind a dominant line in high school. They used to throw me in with the second and third-team offensive line and I would get pummeled,” he said. “It literally starts with the offensive line. The team goes where the offensive line goes. We always had a smooth transition when it came to our line because we learned under guys that were really, really good.”

Michigan has addressed the numbers issue along the offensive line, landing eight ESPN 300 offensive linemen since 2012. That includes Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch, who have all played on the line this season.

Most of the youth has to do with recruiting and the attrition that came about between the 2010 and 2011 classes, when the Wolverines were in transition between Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Those two classes were thin in numbers.

The Wolverines signed 26 prospects in Rodriguez's final class in 2010 -- the group that would now be fourth-year players -- and only nine are still on the team.

That all leads to inexperience on the field and a lack of knowledge for the game plan, something Howard believes is a huge part of success.

“Part of the reason why I got pummeled when they put me in with the second or third team was because all the guys were young and didn’t know who the hell to block,” he said. “I was the same in pass protection. I never pass-protected in high school until I got to Michigan, and let’s just say I whiffed on a few blocking assignments and got our quarterback killed.”

The inexperience showed on Saturday when quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked seven times by the Michigan State defense.

The positive for Michigan fans is that Hoke and his staff have been landing the recruits they want. Since 2012, Michigan has 28 ESPN 300 commitments and 39 prospects ranked with four stars or better. Michigan signed only eight ESPN 300 prospects from 2009 to 2011.

Youth on the field often results in what Michigan fans saw on Saturday: mistakes and lack of execution.

What that means now, though, is that those highly ranked prospects need to develop and grow quickly. They are likely seeing the field sooner than expected. It might not be good for Michigan right now, but could pay off down the line.