Michigan Wolverines: Blake Bars

Spring football started Tuesday, so the competition for positions is officially under way and under the watchful eyes of Brady Hoke and his staff. This week, we’re counting down the five position battles you should also keep an eye on during the next month.

No. 3: Center

Who’s in the mix: Graham Glasgow, Patrick Kugler, Jack Miller, Blake Bars

[+] EnlargeGraham Glasgow
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsGraham Glasgow moved over to center in 2013 and could remain there this fall.
What to watch: It shouldn't be a surprise that the offensive line is making an appearance on this countdown (and it won’t be the last time, either). There was a lot of shuffling at center last season. Miller started the first four games and Glasgow finished out the season. The interior offensive line struggled so much that it’s hard to really pinpoint anything, but it’s obvious the center spot was far from stout. Glasgow is remembered for his few badly botched snaps (against Michigan State and Nebraska), but he definitely showed improvement as the season went on. The big question will be whether he can keep the position, if it will turn back to Miller (unlikely) or if a younger guy such as Kugler or Bars (both took reps at center during bowl practice) can step in. Bars seems like a better fit outside, but Michigan made the move out of necessity during those practices. Most likely, this position race will come down to Glasgow and Kugler.

Glasgow was formerly a guard, and he's probably better suited there naturally. Kugler came in as a true center. At 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds, Kugler has good size for a center, though he needs to put on more weight. The average size of the six finalists for the Rimington Trophy last season was 6-4 and 304 pounds, so Kugler is still a bit small in comparison. However, Kugler is a bit more compact than Glasgow and has the benefit of spending a year in the playbook and weight room before playing a down for the Wolverines.

They say that if there’s going to be youth on the offensive line, it’s best to have it on the outside, which will likely be the case for the Wolverines in 2014. The opposite was shown this past season, as the youth was on the interior and Michigan averaged an almost-conference-worst 3.3 yards per rush and allowed 36 sacks, which was better than just two other Big Ten teams. Glasgow certainly has the upper hand when it comes to experience and the in-game chemistry he already gained with the likely guard starters, Kyle Bosch and Kyle Kalis. However, with Kugler’s football pedigree -- his father, Sean, is currently the head coach at UTEP and is a former offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills -- and his time spent solely learning the scheme with Darrell Funk, Kugler could make this a battle.

Previous posts:
By Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s standards, this season was a failure.

However, Michigan’s participation in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 can be interpreted as a huge victory for the team, and specifically its youth.

Obviously, beating Kansas State will be put at a premium. But the coaching staff won’t overlook the fact that they’ll get extra practice time with the young players on this team.

There aren’t any special bowl-prep practice rules. Michigan can practice for the bowl as they did during the regular season -- 20 hours a week with a maximum of four hours a day.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Tony DingA bowl game gives Brady Hoke and his staff more time to work with underclassmen.
“The great thing about bowl games is that you get a chance to get so many more practices,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “In our case, we’re a very young football team and it gets our young guys another 15 or 12 practices to get better and to improve on the mistakes that they’ve made. That’s where the real plus in this bowl game is.”

And while Michigan isn’t going to scrap its depth chart and only work with the scout team over the next few weeks, it will be a huge opportunity for players who are lower on the depth chart or only played sporadically this season to get more repetitions.

Obviously, the offensive line had a bit of that throughout the season. Six freshmen and sophomores started at least one game this season, and while that created a lot of confusion and growing pains, left tackle Taylor Lewan preached about how much that would help the team in the next few seasons.

So during the next two-and-a-half weeks, young players such as Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Bosch will continue that growth. But it will be even more helpful as offensive line coach Darrell Funk is able to work with reserve player such as Ben Braden and Blake Bars or players who redshirted this season such as David Dawson and Patrick Kugler.

It’s the same story for the defense. Freshmen defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, linebacker Ben Gedeon and defensive lineman Taco Charlton each played this season, but during that time they were targeted by opposing teams from time to time specifically because they were freshmen.

And then there are players such as running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith and tight end Jake Butt, who made large contributions by the end of the season, but didn’t really get the full season of experience as a first or second-stringer.

This cluster of practices will be like an extra three game weeks.

“A lot of these young guys have earned a right to play, and it didn’t start out the first week,” Mattison said. “It has been throughout the season, so every chance they get to play another game and to have this practice time is tremendous for us.”

While the 7-5 season isn’t what the Wolverines had hoped for, they’ll be able to use this as a new season going forward, a chance to go 1-0.

The fact that so many freshmen and sophomores played this fall shows how confident Hoke and his staff are in the job they’ve done on the recruiting trail.

“We’re very, very excited about our football team and we feel very strongly that the young men that we’ve recruited in the two or three years that we’ve been here now are the right young men,” Mattison said. “Now, it’s getting that experience. … You can’t put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can gain on individual drills and become a smarter football player.”

WolverineNation Mailbag 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
3:00
PM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season, you are so close. Teams are in pads. Scrimmages are happening. Kickoff of the first week of the season is less than three weeks away.

This means more questions about actual football in this week’s mailbag. If you have questions next week, send them to Chantel at @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com through the electronic mail.

Now on to your questions this week.

@saltybarb22 from The Den asksL Who is being developed for the tackle spots behind Taylor (Lewan) and (Michael) Schofield?

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Spring practice has ended for Michigan and for the first time, the depth chart for the fall is beginning to take shape.

Yes, there will still be some big competitions on Michigan’s offense -- particularly at running back and wide receiver -- but there is now a better idea of who the Wolverines’ starting 11 will be in August when they open the season against Central Michigan.

WolverineNation takes a two-day look at what Michigan’s depth chart will be come fall, starting with the offense.

Quarterback

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke has talked up how physical his practices are. And after seeing the Wolverines’ first practice of spring ball this weekend, Watch List tight end Nic Weishar (Chicago/Marist) said he knows Hoke walks the walk, too.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.

Depth chart analysis: Right tackle 

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
1:00
PM ET
Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each position on the roster heading into the offseason.

Michigan will have major holes and questions on the offensive line entering next season having to replace the entire interior of the line. Two players remain, though, and they’ll be able to give Michigan some stability on an otherwise fluctuating position group. And one will potentially start next season at right tackle.

The starter: Redshirt senior Michael Schofield. The starter here last season, Schofield did well at times and struggled at others after shifting over from left guard, where he stood out as a sophomore. Now, he has a more important role considering the majority of the Michigan offensive line will be first-time starters, including whoever he plays next to at guard.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan now has an idea of who it will play and who it will redshirt this season.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday that he feels comfortable with where his team stands now with its freshman class after 12 of them have played in the first two games of the season.

And if they haven’t played yet -- it is likely they won’t until 2013.

(Read full post)

Entrance Interview: Blake Bars 

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
9:37
AM ET
Entrance Interview is a series at WolverineNation -- similar to our Exit Interview series -- where we chat with incoming Michigan football and men's basketball players about their thoughts as they start college, what their expectations are, and what they'll miss most about high school.

On a team in need of offensive linemen both for depth and potential to start, Blake Bars (Nashville/Montgomery Bell Academy) knows the opportunity is there for playing time early. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound tackle has spent the past few months training and preparing for that possibility.

WolverineNation caught up with Bars to find out what he has been working on and what he is expecting out of next season.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Erik MagnusonTom Hauck for ESPN.comBy 2014, Erik Magnuson will be a third-year sophomore and in perfect position to grab one of the starting spots at tackle.

It’s always fun to look into the future and guess where players will be after the next few seasons. So Tom VanHaaren and Chantel Jennings decided to sit down and do their best to produce the depth chart for the beginning of the 2014 season. They aren’t coaches, nor are they scouts, but this is an educated guess at what could happen over the next few seasons.

2014 DEPTH CHART:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Meet Blake Bars 

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
5:02
PM ET
Name: Blake Bars

Hometown: Nashville

Ht., wt.: 6 feet 6, 285

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Bars' mother reflects 

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
5:02
PM ET
WolverineNation will be running Q&A’s with the parents of the Michigan commitments leading up to signing day to give their perspective on the recruiting process. Here is a look at what offensive line commit Blake Bars’ mom, Sally, had to say.

Q: Are you happy with the way your son's recruitment turned out?

A: I am really happy. At first I was like, ‘Are you sure you want to decide this soon?’ And now, looking back, I am so happy that he put that behind him so he could focus on his season.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Quicker Turnaround: Florida Or Michigan?
Kelly Stouffer and Anthony Becht explain the merits of Florida and Michigan, and debate which program will have a quicker turnaround.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD