Michigan Wolverines: Erik Magnuson
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.
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.”
Without every last detail played to perfection in the waning moments of regulation, the Wolverines wouldn't have attempted that game-tying field goal and wouldn't have had a chance to play for an overtime win against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
There was Matt Wile finding kicker Brendan Gibbons to let him know Michigan would be running a hurry-up field goal. There was Taylor Lewan, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Bosch getting to the sideline in time. And then there were the other linemen getting on to the field in time.
There was Gibbons -- a player whose position is predicated on routine and detail -- getting to the 34-yard line, shuffling back and moving his weight back and forth a few times. In film, special teams coach Dan Ferrigno would tell Gibbons that steps are overrated.
There was snapper Jareth Glanda making sure to get to the ball in time, then waiting for the signal from holder Drew Dileo.
And then there was Dileo, fresh off a vertical route the previous play of the game, on the opposite side, unable to hear the coaches on the sideline. He didn’t know the play call until he saw Gibbons running on to the field. At that point he took off.
And then there was the play within the play -- Dileo’s slide (or as people on Twitter took to calling it, the #DileoPowerSlide).
The slide was for substance, not style (though it definitely added some style points to the game), because every millisecond mattered.
“At first, honestly no, I really didn’t [think I’d make it],” Dileo said. “I saw Brendan run on the field. I looked at the clock and it was six seconds left and so then I just put my head down and ran to where his foot was.”
Dileo remembers signaling for the ball with two seconds remaining, and after three overtimes, the Wolverines were able to successfully celebrate a road win, its special teams and the Dileo power slide.
That slide so perfectly encapsulated the chaos of the moment, the need to do whatever it took -- including a return to Dileo’s baseball days -- in order for the play to work.
Dileo didn’t know whether Lewan started the trend or if it were someone else on Twitter, but it blew up and suddenly -- after a full day of college football -- everyone seemed to be watching and talking about a special teams play that happened in a relatively inconsequential Big Ten game.
With the exception of the impromptu slide, however, that play for Michigan is relatively normal. The hurry-up field goal is something the Wolverines have practiced every week since Hoke and this coaching staff arrived at Michigan.
Though, admittedly, sometimes Hoke makes it a bit more difficult.
“Coach Hoke’s countdown is not a real countdown,” Dileo said. “Sometimes he goes from 10 to one in about four seconds. ... I think the game was probably just a culmination of practice the last three years and we executed really well.”
The execution was there, and for a team that has struggled to make big plays and give their fans something to be excited about, the Wolverines managed to come up the biggest in the moment with the smallest margin for error.
Michigan fans have been in awe of it and Hoke said it was one of the best he has ever been a part of, but was it the best team play Dileo had ever seen?
“I really think so,” Dileo said. “In the last couple days I’ve watched that play over and over and over. And it really is amazing that we got the ball off. Really the whole two-minute drive ... and them getting off the field. It really was amazing.”
But a “head concussion thing” led Hoke to believe Toussaint wasn’t quite practiced enough. That injury -- which Hoke said no longer is ailing the redshirt senior -- left Toussaint on the sideline and forced the hand of the Michigan coaching staff to turn to some of its youth in the run game. And that decision paid dividends.
“Both of those guys are pretty much downhill runners,” Hoke said. “They have a chance to end up north and south because of their size and their style. They have pretty good vision most of the time.”
Coming in to the Northwestern game, Green had just 40 carries all season while Smith had accounted for just 15 carries over two games. But against the Wildcats, the two averaged 4.4 yards per carry, which is far more production out of the tailback position than the Wolverines have been accustomed to through the Big Ten schedule.
Because of the freshmen’s production, Hoke now has quite the decision -- one that will play out over the course of this week -- on whether to stick with his veteran running back who hasn’t gotten it going, or to take a chance on his young guns.
“We’ll see where we shake out at the end of the week with who will be the first back in,” Hoke said.
But not all of the accomplishments of the youthful running backs can be attributed to Green and Smith. The youthful interior line -- freshman left guard Kyle Bosch, redshirt sophomore center Graham Glasgow and redshirt freshman right guard Erik Magnuson -- played its part and really created space for the Wolverines for the first time during the conference slate.
“The running backs played well,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “But we also gave them holes to run through. That was huge. It was a good team effort.”
“I think the three guys inside really established the line of scrimmage,” Hoke added. “When you watch the tape [the running backs] were able to get started better.”
But the offensive line (and whichever back the Wolverines go with on Saturday) will face a tough test in Iowa. The Hawkeyes have allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season and one quarter of all opponent rushes have gone for 0 or negative yardage.
But it’s not impossible to have success in the run game against Iowa. Wisconsin rushed for 218 yards earlier this month, and Ohio State rushed for 273 yards against the Hawkeyes.
With the advancements the young interior line and young running backs showed against Northwestern, it should be a very interesting matchup in Iowa City.
“We weren’t perfect but some of the movement we had at the line of scrimmage -- trust me, that’ll be tested this week because of how Iowa plays the line of scrimmage and who they have playing it,” Hoke said. “We’ll be tested, but they got movement [against Northwestern] and it was really good to see the combination blocks working together.”
The driver's seat in the Legends division is up for grabs Saturday in East Lansing, and the Spartans have a bit of head start going in to that race. Here are five things to keep your eyes on as Michigan and Michigan State take the field in Spartan Stadium...
1. The offense's productivity. The Wolverines offense had a ridiculous showing against Indiana. And yes, that was Indiana, but it definitely got in a groove, and if it can keep up any of that momentum, it'll be a very good thing. The Spartans defense is giving up just 216 yards per game, so while the Wolverines most likely won't be able to put up 700-plus yards again, getting even one third of that total could tilt the scale in Michigan's favor. The main key here is going to be getting the attack started up front with a rushing attack. Whether that be via running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (what Michigan really wants) or quarterback Devin Gardner (less desired, but possibly more likely), the Wolverines need to make sure its rushing attack can open up the passing game.
2. Speaking of the Michigan passing game... That's also key. Basically every aspect of the offense and every player within the offense is key in order for Michigan to have a chance in this game. The Spartans have recorded nine interceptions in eight games and their secondary is led by senior Darqueze Dennard, who has two interceptions and seven pass breakups. Gardner is going to need to take his shots downfield and when called upon, Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess will need to rise to the occasion in order to make those shots count. Gardner has gone one game without an interception. If he can get through a second consecutive game --especially considering the second game is coming against the Spartans -- that would be a big, big deal.
3. The Spartans pass rush. It only makes sense that the first three things to watch about this game are in regard to the MSU defense because it's very, very good. If Michigan's offense is very good, then it'll be interesting to watch because of how well-played the game could be, but if Michigan's offense isn't good, then the Spartans defense will be making plays and providing highlights. But keep an eye on the pass rush because if Gardner throws an interception, it'll likely be because he gets forced out of the pocket because of the MSU pass rush. The Spartans have recorded 18 sacks this season, 13 of those coming from four defensive linemen -- Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone.
4. Michigan defense's response. Enough talk of the MSU defense; let's discuss the Wolverines' defense -- which needs to make a big statement after the unimpressive performance against Indiana. The Michigan defensive line, which hasn't provided a consistent pass rush, will attempt to get MSU quarterback Connor Cook out of his comfort zone. But it'll need to be stout against the run too, as Jeremy Langford is really coming in to his own at running back.
5. The environment. Spartan Stadium is going to be rocking. "Comments" are going to be flying between the two teams. And the Wolverines, who've looked far from consistent on the road this season, will be thrown right in the middle of it. Redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson and true freshman Kyle Bosch will likely be starting on the offensive line. Funchess, a sophomore, will be expected to make big plays. Freshman Derrick Green could be used to pick up some yardage. And freshmen Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis, who've been so close to making plays in the Wolverines secondary, could get picked apart if they aren't on their 'A' games. This will be a big moment on a huge stage, and anything less than perfect could spell disaster for Michigan.
“There’s always going to be that extra physical-ness before and a little bit after the whistle -- that’s what these games are all about,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “That’s the beauty of a rivalry.”
But the problem with that is that the Wolverines admit that they were outmuscled when it came to that physicality two years ago in East Lansing when they lost, 28-14.
And for a team that prides itself on physicality, especially in the trenches, that added insult to injury as the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor.
“I take it personally,” Lewan said. “Nobody likes to get bullied and that’s what they did two years ago, they bullied us, and that’s tough. ... I don’t like getting bullied, I don’t want it to happen. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a very physical game. We’re not going to get bullied this year.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke prides his teams on their ability to match up physically to anyone in the country, though in each of the Wolverines’ losses over the past few seasons -- like the one in East Lansing two years ago -- it could be argued that his group was on the lesser end of the physicality scale.
The Wolverines will need to match up with the Spartans up front, which will be a tall task.
Most likely, Hoke will stick with redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson and true freshman Kyle Bosch at the guard positions, giving the Wolverines a very youthful offensive front.
The Spartans defensive front has given up an FBS-low 10 rushes of 10 yards or more this season. Alabama, Memphis and Ohio State are tied for second with 17 rushes of 10 yards or more. And 34 percent of opponent rushes against the Spartans gain zero or negative yards.
Undoubtedly, it’s a big measuring stick for the Wolverines offense, which will try to match the physicality and play of the Spartans, but Hoke avoided putting too many eggs in that basket earlier this week.
“Would this be a defining moment? I don’t know,” Hoke said. “I think it’s a learning moment. You learn a little bit more about your guys as a team. Until you put anybody in those kinds of games in that environment, and that’s where we’ve got to do a good job of what we do and the preparation for them.”
But a lot of that preparation will be for the Spartans’ level of physicality. Hoke said that this week in practice things have gotten chippy between a few players, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it shows that guys are willing to practice and play with an edge.
And they’re going to need that edge in East Lansing.
“We need to be the more physical team every single Saturday,” Lewan said. “If you want to win championships, especially in the Big Ten, it’s a physical conference, you’re going to get banged up a little bit. That’s what happens. You have to power through. ... The great teams keep going no matter what.”
Brady Hoke endears himself to Michigan fans by embracing all things maize and blue, but he outlines the standards for the Wolverines program in black and white.
Success: a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Failure: anything else.
Ricky Bobby would be proud.
Or he simply thinks Michigan shouldn't settle for anything but championships. Again, refreshing.
It has been eight seasons since Michigan last won a Big Ten championship. That should never happen.
While Hoke undoubtedly has done some good things in his two-plus seasons as Michigan's coach, his tenure to date, by his own standards, has fallen short. Maybe that's too harsh an assessment, given the fragile program Hoke inherited from Rich Rodriguez. Then again, if Hoke judges himself that way, why shouldn't we?
He's in Year 3, enough time to have Michigan positioned for a championship push, regardless of the issues when he took over. As November dawns, Hoke and the Wolverines embark on a stretch that will determine exactly who they are -- champions or guys who talk about championships at a school that has won more than any in the Big Ten.
"The month of November is when you win championships," Hoke told ESPN.com. "A lot of that has always been because of the meat of your schedule, who you're playing. When you look at our schedule and the divisional games are all over that schedule, it's important."
It begins Saturday when No. 21 Michigan visits No. 22 Michigan State. The Spartans are the only Legends Division team without a Big Ten loss. Michigan's lone defeat came in a cross-division game at Penn State, and a loss to Michigan State would essentially put the Wolverines 2½ games behind the Spartans with four weeks to play.
"If we want to win a championship," Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said, "we have to go through Michigan State."
Could Michigan still achieve its goal with a loss Saturday afternoon?
"You're counting on a lot of things to happen," Hoke said. "It gets out of your hands to a certain degree. Are we a good football team? Yeah. Are we perfect by any ways? No, and we haven't been. We've been inconsistent, but we have won six games and lost one in four overtimes where we had plenty of opportunities.
"We've grown, but obviously [if you lose] you put yourselves behind the eight ball."
Michigan has been an enigma this season, impressively beating Notre Dame in Week 2 but struggling against Football Bowl Subdivision bottom-feeders Akron and Connecticut and losing to an unremarkable Penn State squad. The Wolverines are one of the Big Ten's most talented teams, bolstered by the recruiting success Hoke and his staff have engineered, and they're certainly capable of blossoming into a division champion in the next five weeks. They also could crumble as the competition gets tougher.
The next five weeks not only will provide answers about Team 134 but also about Hoke and his ability to meet his own standards.
Several of Hoke's achievements at Michigan can't be touched. He has ended long losing streaks against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State. He boasts a 19-0 mark at Michigan Stadium and became the first Michigan coach to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons since Fielding Yost (1901-02). He has made significant upgrades in recruiting, as Michigan signed top-10 classes in 2012 and 2013 and likely will do so again in February.
He also blends seamlessly with the Michigan family, unlike his predecessor, and oversees a program that lacks the drama that seemed to surface throughout Rodriguez's tenure.
Hoke has achieved many of the things Rodriguez could not, but that's not enough at this type of program. He has yet to make the Big Ten championship game, even with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State in the other division. Michigan had fortune on its side in Hoke's first season, as it beat the worst Ohio State team in a generation, received a BCS at-large berth ahead of a Michigan State team it lost to and beat a Virginia Tech team in the Sugar Bowl that many believed had no business being in New Orleans. Last year, Michigan lost to all the elite teams it faced and finished a disappointing 8-5.
Hoke's teams are just 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium, including a 28-14 setback two years ago at Michigan State, an emotion-charged contest that featured six personal foul penalties on the Spartans.
"Two years ago up there, we, as a team, flinched too many times," Hoke said. "That bothers you, so I wasn't expecting that from the Michigan teams that I've been around before."
Hoke hopes to see more poise Saturday from his team, including young players like starting guards Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson, a true freshman and a redshirt freshman, respectively. He needs to see better tackling technique from a Wolverines defense that surrendered 47 points and 572 yards in its last game against Indiana.
He needs to see great leadership from players like Lewan, who embraces Hoke's championship-or-bust mentality and passed up millions in the NFL for one more title shot at Michigan.
Lewan recognizes what's on the line for Michigan and ensures anyone who doesn't will by week's end.
"Just staying in their ear, over and over again, letting them know what this game is about," Lewan said.
How close is Michigan to being a championship team?
"Golly," Hoke said, "the best way I would say it is we need some more seasoning, some more experiences."
There's no better experience than the one Michigan will have Saturday at Spartan Stadium. A win gives Michigan control of the division. A loss likely extends Michigan's title drought for another year.
The stakes are spelled out for the Maize and Blue in black and white. Hoke would have it no other way.
The Michigan offense has lacked consistency this season, so this week will give the Wolverines an opportunity to find that and jell more as they begin what will be a tough stretch to end the season. Defensively, Michigan had appeared stout until last weekend against Indiana, so this off week gives that group a chance to regroup and examine what went wrong.
Here’s a closer look at what this week means on both sides of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has a lot of talent on his side of the ball, but it hasn’t always come together to show the most cohesive, productive unit.
Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield and Graham Glasgow are safe at the tackles and center spots, but it doesn’t really matter how well those three play if the guards let pressure through on both sides. Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant all seem to be battling for those guard spots. With two full weeks to prep for the Michigan State game, it does seem likely -- at least with what the coaches want -- as though the starting group against the Spartans will be what Michigan will go with the rest of the season.
“We’re not eliminating anybody,” Borges said. “We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. We got to this point where we’re pretty functional now, because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
The O-line showed cohesion against Indiana and gave quarterback Devin Gardner plenty of time in the pocket. Gardner likely spent the week watching film with Borges to figure out how to attack the Michigan State defense. The Spartans boast the best defense in the country and have given up fewer than 14 points per game this season.
Gardner is going to need to continue improving his accuracy, as MSU will make sure to put its defense in prime positions to make plays on the ball. Already this season the Spartans have accounted for five defensive touchdowns.
However, they haven’t had to game plan against a tandem as unique as Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess. Both are effective but completely different as playmakers, and when one draws attention from a defense, the other seems to make big plays.
The Wolverines were ultra-effective in the pass and run game last weekend largely because they showed such a diverse offense, which in turn opened up the game for Gardner and allowed him and the playmakers to make plays.
“We’re not becoming a spread team but we’re going to have that dimension in our offense,” Borges said. “We’re going to have the ability to take you sideline to sideline; we’re going to have the ability to mow you over. If you have both, certain games one is going to be better than the other.”
Michigan’s defense looked so solid up until last week.
But it wasn’t the point total or the yardage total that disappointed defensive coordinator Greg Mattison the most. Instead, it was the fact that there weren’t 11 helmets running to the ball on every play. If the Wolverines want to take care of business next weekend in East Lansing, that (and many other things) will have to change.
“I feel very confident in our guys, because we’re going to work every second to do it,” Mattison said. “I know we’ll have Michigan defense back on that field the way it’s supposed to be when we play that game.”
The coaches haven’t come out and completely said what their plan is for Jake Ryan at this point. But if he is 100 percent and still has that quick step and instinct, it doesn’t seem like they’ll continue the three-play rotations they’ve employed with Ryan, Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon for much longer.
If Ryan begins picking up more reps for the MSU game, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see Beyer moved back to the defensive line to bring an extra body and experience to that group, while also being able to give Ryan a break here and there.
The secondary needs to clean it up this weekend. The Wolverines allowed several big plays over the past two weeks, and on many of them it seemed as though the defensive backs were right there but didn’t finish. But almost doesn’t cut it in football.
Mattison said Saturday’s disappointment for each position group on the defense could be a positive experience in the long run, as it’ll fuel each player for the rest of this season.
“That experience from Saturday -- you can’t pay for that, that feeling, and them seeing how it isn’t supposed to be,” Mattison said of the Indiana game. “You can’t pay for that. If you’re going to be a great defense, they’re going to remember that for a long time.”
The Wolverines have started three different offensive lines through seven games. And while Michigan had its best game -- statistically -- last Saturday, it was against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten.
“Even with that, Hoke was happy with the push from the offensive line and the protection it provided for quarterback Devin Gardner.
Obviously the big test in two weeks, you're playing one of the top five defenses in the country and in our conference in all the categories. We've got a lot of work to do before then.” Coach Brady Hoke on the Wolverines' next game at Michigan State.
“I liked the progress that they made,” Hoke said. “And even the guys who weren’t starting, the weeks that they had were significant in their development. The competition that we always have, I think, is helping us as a football team.”
That competition so far this season has provided enough talent for Hoke to shuffle faces around on the O-line. The three players who have started every game are Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield at the tackles and Graham Glasgow, first at left guard, and then moving over to center when conference play began.
One of the bigger personnel surprises was redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis being moved out of the starting lineup. Coaches had spoken highly of him from the beginning of fall camp, but even though he lost his starting spot to redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson, Hoke said that Kalis is still in the middle of that competition.
“I think he’s probably responded like you’d like him to,” Hoke said. “He has had a good week of practice -- came out and was physical, really understands that we’re going to need him. The next five games I can assure you we’re going to need every guy that we have in both fronts to play their best football.”
And they might be using that depth as they already have this season. Here’s a look at who played where through the first seven games this season.
Central Michigan to Connecticut:
LT: Taylor Lewan (Erik Magnuson)
LG: Graham Glasgow (Chris Bryant)
C: Jack Miller (Joey Burzynski)
RG: Kyle Kalis (Erik Gunderson)
RT: Michael Schofield (Ben Braden, Magnuson)
Minnesota and Penn State:
LT: Lewan (when Lewan got injured: Schofield, Gunderson)
LG: Chris Bryant (Burzynski)
RG: Kalis (Burzynski)
RT: Schofield (Magnuson)
LG: Joey Burzynski (Kyle Bosch)
RG: Magnuson (Kalis)
It will be interesting to see what Hoke and his staff decide to do with his group going forward.
On Monday, Hoke announced that Burzynski would be out the rest of the season with a torn ACL so that opens up the left guard spot again. When Burzynski exited the Indiana game, Hoke inserted Bosch, a freshman who held his own.
Whether Bosch can keep that spot, or if Hoke and his staff decide to shuffle more players around the line, will be something that plays out over the next week and a half as the Wolverines prepare for Michigan State.
The Spartans are the country’s best defense, allowing just 228 yards per game, including just 59 rushing yards per game. Considering the rushing performance the Wolverines had against Indiana, they’ll be heading into that game feeling confident, but they’ll certainly have their work cut out for them.
“Obviously the big test in two weeks, you’re playing one of the top five defenses in the country and in our conference in all the categories,” Hoke said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before then.”
Michigan knew it would be young up front with three brand-new interior O-line starters -- left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis -- and while the struggles might not have shown up as much against Central Michigan and Notre Dame, they did against Akron and UConn.
So if there seems to be a place on offense that a new starter might emerge by the time the conference season hits, the offensive line might not be a bad bet.
“I think the three guys in the middle [of] the offensive line are always something that we look at,” coach Brady Hoke said. “There are some guys who have played well in there, but there’s great competition behind them. So if a guy has a good practice, good couple days, you may move him up.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on three very young guys, but Hoke said that so far they’ve responded well to pressure.
But it wouldn’t just affect the interior line. Obviously, Hoke can’t make changes there without having it also affect left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield.
But Lewan said he would be open to moving guys around or bringing news guys in if that’s what it takes to get the offensive line back to a Michigan standard.
“All of the offensive linemen on this team are great guys, as far as character, and if the coaches believe that another guy should get a shot, I’m going to work with him as much as I can,” Lewan said. “My job is to get this offensive line right, to get this team right.”
But he has also seen good, promising performances out of the youthful O-line.
Lewan said that he has seen intensity in the group, which is often a big jump to make, but that it hasn’t been quite as consistent as he wants it to be, nor has it always matched the intensity of their coaching staff.
“I saw a huge sense of urgency in those young guys [against UConn],” Lewan said. “Those guys are starting to build their legacy and build what they want in the future. ... I think it really clicked for them in the second half of the game.”
But the problem is that it’s taking a while for it to click, and Michigan doesn’t really have a lot of time left. With Big Ten play starting next weekend, the Wolverines know they’ll have to be perfect, or close to it, if they want a chance to play for the conference championship.
This bye week was well-timed to give the Wolverines a chance to try out a few new lineups. Perhaps Ben Braden, Chris Bryant or Erik Magnuson will get a shot on the O-line.
However, there will be growing pains because those players have even less game experience than Michigan’s current starting group.
Lewan said that maybe the younger guys are thinking too much about the pressures and the O-line gradings and how each step affects them down the road. It’s natural for a younger guy to think of those things as he’s fighting to secure a spot in the starting line or rotation. But if Michigan wants to have an offensive line that is effective, Lewan thinks they might just have to get rid of ... thinking.
“There comes a time when you have to be a student of the game, you have to watch film, you have to know what you’re doing,” Lewan said. “But when you’re on the football field, you kind of just have to turn your brain off and play football.”
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 email@example.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?
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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.
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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.
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“People,” Lewan said, “think I’m crazy.”
When someone turns down the potential for millions of dollars to play a violent, unforgiving game for free for another year, the questioning makes sense. Lewan understands that. He appreciates that.
But it was his decision, and Michigan and Lewan's coaching staff are happy for it.
Lewan’s return offered immediate dividends for Michigan. It could place him easily at left tackle, not worry about the results, and focus on shoring up the interior of an offensive line which has no experience at all.
Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said recently he’d like to have at least one, maybe two of the spots solidified by the time fall camp starts. In a perfect scenario, the Wolverines would have their entire offensive line set by the end of spring, but that seems unlikely, considering the emphasis coach Brady Hoke has placed on summer development in the past.
That development aided Michigan last season when it eventually leaned on Elliott Mealer to start at center and Ricky Barnum to start at left guard after the two entered fall camp at each other’s eventual positions.
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.
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But fans can rest easy. No, he didn’t commit, but he left Michigan very impressed. And following his visit he said that his pending commitment to any of his top schools could come at any time now. The 6-foot-5, 266-pound lineman has a top four of Michigan, Notre Dame, Clemson and Florida State, in no particular order.
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