- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players, if Michigan lost them, would be in the most trouble.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- To many people other than Taylor Lewan, Taylor Lewan should be in his first NFL training camp right now, being hazed as a rookie and preparing for a career as a bookend tackle for whatever NFL franchise drafted him.
The redshirt senior chose to hold off on all of that for another season, surprising his teammates, his coaches and almost everyone else by returning to Michigan for his fifth season.
In doing so, he immediately remained the most talented player on Michigan’s roster and almost a lock to be a high pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. If this list were based on talent, Lewan would be the No. 1 player on this list without question.
In perhaps a good sign for the Wolverines in terms of talent and depth on the offensive line, Lewan comes in fourth in our list of most indispensable players this season.
Last year’s stats: ESPN.com first-team All-American. Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Has started 28 straight games at left tackle.
Where does he fit on Michigan’s offense/defense?
The most important piece of the Michigan offensive line and the player who will protect the blind side of Devin Gardner, Lewan is important to whatever offensive success the Wolverines have this season. He showed his dominance as a college tackle in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina superstar Jadeveon Clowney, where he held up well against the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Beyond his obvious skill -- and a spot Michigan does not have to worry about this fall from a leadership or production perspective -- having Lewan return gives the young, talented lineman another player to learn from and look up to. It also gives Michigan more stability since there will only be three new starters instead of the possibility of four new starters with the fifth, Michael Schofield, likely playing a new position had he left.
What happens if he’s out of the lineup?
This is a question Michigan hopes it will not have to answer this season. Michigan has depth, but it is vastly inexperienced depth. The likely answer is one of two scenarios. The first would involve Schofield moving from right tackle to left tackle and either kicking Ben Braden out to right tackle or sliding Erik Magnuson into the spot. If Michigan moved Braden to right tackle, then you’d see a combination of either Joey Burzynski, Chris Bryant or Graham Glasgow move to left guard. The other option is to keep Schofield at right tackle and slide Braden from left guard to left tackle. The same replacements would slide into the left guard slot.
As mentioned before, Michigan would not want to have to mess with any of these scenarios.
Bottom line, why is he critical to Michigan’s season?
Multiple reasons. He’ll likely help out, at least early on, with Michigan’s offensive line adjustments from a play-to-play basis to make sure everyone is lined up and blocking either solo or in tandem correctly. He’ll be protecting Gardner, which is more important than normal because of the inexperience and actual lack of bodies behind him on the depth chart.
He also has the potential to be Michigan’s best offensive lineman since the last player to wear No. 77 -- Jake Long. Long kept Chad Henne upright for the majority of his career and ended up as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Players like Long -- and Lewan -- are almost irreplaceable for what they can bring from a talent, experience and intangible perspective. Losing Lewan would be a big issue for Michigan.