Michigan Wolverines: Joey Burzynski
Hoke, who was fired by Michigan last Tuesday, said he wanted to keep the focus of Monday’s night ceremony on the team’s senior class.
“This football team showed great resiliency throughout a season that saw many external distractions,” he said from the dais. “I’m very proud of them and very proud of what the coaching staff did."
Interim athletic director Jim Hackett and university president Mark Schlissel also spoke. No one from the university answered questions from the media following the event.
All 12 of Michigan’s outgoing seniors thanked Hoke for pushing them and caring for them. Several spoke emotionally about the way their erstwhile head coach cared for them and their teammates.
Fifth-year senior Jake Ryan won the team’s most valuable player award and two others on his final night with the Michigan football program. Ryan made 112 tackles this season after moving to middle linebacker. He is finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the country’s top linebacker. He was also retroactively named a team captain Monday night.
Hoke opted not to name official captains at the start of the 2014 season because he felt that caused some teams to feel entitled in the past. He met with the team last Tuesday to tell them he wouldn’t be returning in 2015. He told them at that time that Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner would be honored as this season’s two captains.
Bo Schembechler MVP: Linebacker Jake Ryan
Ryan: “It’s an honor. I just want to thank my teammates. I’ve learned so much from them, and I hope they’ve learned a little from me.”
Dr. Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award (leading senior scholar): Offensive lineman Joey Burzynski
Burzynski: “After my first exams I called home to tell them I got an A-, and my mom said, ‘Careful, those A- will catch up to you.’”
Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award (best offensive lineman): Center Jack Miller
Miller: “I share this award with everyone on the offensive line, probably the most improved group on the team this season.”
Roger Zatkoff Award (best linebacker): Ryan
Robert P. Ufer Bequest (team spirit): Defensive end Brennen Beyer
Beyer: “This season was full of trials of all kinds ... This year more than any other I grew as a leader, teammate and a man.”
Richard Katcher Award (best defensive lineman): Beyer
Captains Award: Gardner and Ryan
Gardner: “I stayed, and I will the rest of my life as a champion.”
Three things we learned in the spring
- Front seven, front and center: The Wolverines didn't stand pat on defense this offseason. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now coaching the linebackers, while Mark Smith moved down to take over the defensive line. They also shuffled their linebackers, switching Jake Ryan to the middle and emerging star James Ross III to the strong side. The moves seemed to work out well this spring, with Ryan looking like his old playmaking self a year removed from ACL surgery. The defensive line could be one of the team's strengths, led by senior defensive ends Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and improving youngsters Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry. Mattison wants to blitz more this season and hopes the defensive line can get more pressure on its own.
- Early enrollees, immediate impact: When players skip the final half of their high school senior years to enroll in college in January, the hope is that they will be more advanced than most freshmen. Wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole exceeded those expectations. Both impressed the coaching staff right away, with Canteen drawing raves and Cole getting a lot of first-team reps at left tackle. Both were with the starting unit during the spring game and figure to have roles on the team this fall.
- More QB clarity: Brady Hoke talked of a quarterback competition this spring, and Devin Gardner wasn't originally expected to do a whole lot while recovering from a broken foot. But Gardner surprised the coaches by fulling participating in all 15 spring practices and asserting his hold on the position. Hoke said Shane Morris closed the gap a bit on Gardner and that the competition would continue. But even though Gardner didn't play well in the spring game, it's pretty clear that this remains his team.
- Can O-line be less offensive?: New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has brought a simplified blocking scheme and a focus on running downhill. Players said there were times this spring when that was effective. But concerns about the youth and chemistry on the line remain, and not just because of another shaky performance in the spring game. When a mid-year enrollee (Cole) is starting at left tackle, that raises serious red flags. The return of Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski from injury and Graham Glasgow from his one-game suspension will help the experience and talent level. But for now, the line is full of young, unproven players who must find a way to raise their games between now and late August.
- Skill position suspense: With Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo graduated, Devin Funchess is the only returning receiver with more than 15 career catches. Canteen's emergence provided another option at the position, but a lot of question marks remain at wideout. Michigan is hoping Jehu Chesson, Csont'e York, Da'Mario Jones and Dennis Norfleet step forward, Amara Darboh successfully returns from injury and freshman Drake Harris can contribute. But there are few sure things. At running back, the team is hopeful that Derrick Green breaks out as a sophomore and De'Veon Smith joins him for a powerful duo. Again, though, it's mostly optimism and little track record at this point.
- Enough leadership? Hoke has suggested that he wasn't thrilled with the leadership during last season's 7-5 team. He and the players have said that the chemistry and accountability have been good this spring. The fact remains, however, that this team has only 12 seniors, and only seven of them are position players who see the field a lot. Leadership will also have to come from the junior class and elsewhere if Michigan wants to get over the hump of mediocrity.
Jabrill Peppers immediately becomes the team's best defensive back. That's a bold call, as Peppers isn't even on campus yet. But he was the No. 2 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 for a reason, and he should be the kind of physical, cover corner that Michigan has lacked. The Wolverines could try him in several different positions, but if he's the real deal, he can start quickly at cornerback. Program insiders believe his ceiling could be in the Charles Woodson neighborhood. No pressure, kid.
And so the offensive linemen couldn't escape all the negativity floating around about them in 2013. After all, it was virtually everywhere.
The Wolverines didn't need outsiders to tell them what was obvious: they struggled up front, particularly in the three inside spots as coaches mixed and matched inexperienced players without much success. Michigan finished 11th in the Big Ten in rushing and tied for the second-most sacks allowed in the league.
This spring, the two most reliable players on last season's line -- tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield -- are training for future NFL careers. It's up to many of the same guys who struggled in their first major exposure to step forward and change the outlook.
"We know we don't have the option to not get better," guard Kyle Kalis said. "It's getting to that point where we can't really say we’re young anymore, because next year, no one is going to want to hear that. So we have to all come together."
Whether you see it as an excuse or simply reality, the Wolverines are awfully young on the O-line. They have one senior -- Joey Burzynski -- and two juniors in Graham Glasgow and Jack Miller. The rest are sophomores or freshman, and with Burzynski out with an injury and Glasgow serving a suspension, youth is dominating spring practice reps.
Consider the left tackle position. Magnuson, currently out with a shoulder injury, will likely start out atop the depth chart there when he's healthy. But right now, the three players battling to fill Lewan's shows are redshirt freshmen David Dawson and Logan Tuley-Tillman and Mason Cole, a freshman early enrollee. Cole has impressed his coaches and has an excellent chance of at least making the rotation. But the fact that a guy who should be a high school senior right now is getting so many reps at the most important offensive line position speaks volumes.
"I can't all of a sudden make them older, so we have to make sure we do what we can do," offensive line coach Darrell Funk said. "We’re so young that if every day we can get better at something, we’ll have what we want."
The good news is that players like Magnuson, Kalis, Kyle Bosch and Ben Braden all gained valuable experience as freshmen and should naturally improve with more seasoning. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has simplified many of the blocking schemes and is emphasizing quick, decisive moves in a more north-south running game than predecessor Al Borges.
"You get the the chance to open these huge holes and then let the running backs take one or two steps right or left, find the hill and start running," Kalis said. "That’s a big difference from last year."
Last season's group also had a different dynamic with two established senior starters and a whole bunch of young players. Now, many of the players are close together in class and have gone through similar experiences.
"It was Taylor and Scho’s offensive line last year, which was fine because we needed that leadership," Kalis said. "But this year, it's kind of cool that we can let it be our line and really come together."
A lot of work remains, even though spring practice wraps up later this week at Michigan. Funk is still mixing and matching while trying to find the combinations that work best, and the returns of Magnuson, Burzynski and Glasgow will change the formula in fall camp. He said everything is still a work in progress right now, including the leadership on the line.
Funk knows that both he and the unit received scathing criticism last season, but he says the only thing that matters is moving forward.
"You take your lumps with young guys, and then the following years you see the rewards," he said. "I don’t think that will be any different in this situation."
Nobody has to tell those young guys that they need to improve in a hurry. The outside noise is mere motivation.
"We got the label of not being a good offensive line way too much last year," Magnuson said. "That puts a lot of fuel to the fire when you play at Michigan because you have such high expectations."
Prediction No. 1: The offensive line isn’t going to be quite as far along as some would like.
The offensive line is the position group that must improve the most between 2013 and 2014 if the Wolverines want to be better offensively. As good as Devin Gardner, Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith or Amara Darboh might be, it won’t matter too much if the offensive line struggles like (or for as long a stretch) it did in 2013.
What is often thought of as a prototypical Michigan offensive line is one that is stacked with juniors and seniors, guys who have paid their dues, learned from upperclassmen and are physically and mentally ready to step in. However, that wasn’t the case last season and, as much experience as some players might have gained in 2013, it won’t be the case this fall.
The trio also doesn't have experience as a starting combo. Kalis appeared in Bosch’s three starts (against Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern) but didn’t start. But they have played together before, which is more than could be said for the group last season.
So while it’s still a very young group, there could and should be some gains made in the interior of the offensive line. So the problem flip-flops from what it was last season to what it is this season -- the tackles, the strength of the line last season. In 2014, those two positions will likely be filled by two redshirt sophomores who have limited experience.
Ben Braden, who appeared in just two games, is taking reps with the top group this spring and Erik Magnuson, who started seven games and appeared in 12 games last season, is the likely leader for the spot at left tackle. Both have the physical attributes to be excellent tackles: height, weight and long arms. But last season showed what talent without experience looks like, and the idea of some of that inexperience protecting Gardner’s blind side is a bit worrisome.
On top of that, Magnuson underwent shoulder surgery this winter and isn't participating in spring practices. Redshirt freshman David Dawson is taking his snaps at left tackle, just continuing the revolving door of youth on the offensive line.
Last year the competition for the positions went on for weeks throughout the season. In the perfect world, coaches would at least be able to see the two-deep throughout the spring. That certainly won’t be the case as Magnuson is out and reserve players such as Chris Bryant and Joey Burzynski -- who have game experience -- are unavailable this spring.
Because fixing the offensive line is at such a premium for the Wolverines and because fans have taken such notice to it, expectations are high. But those expectations still need to be tempered, especially through this spring. If people show up to the spring game expecting to see the 1997 Michigan offensive line out there, then they probably want to stay home and try to watch replays. This group will make strides, but those strides aren’t going to be massive this spring.
And since I’m on a roll with my assumptions and educated guesses. we should probably get a mailbag rolling.
We do this every Wednesday so send in your questions (jenningsESPN@gmail.com, @ChantelJennings).
Dave Conlon, Ann Arbor: Will anybody score a touchdown (offensively) at Spartan Stadium in two weeks?
The key will be working their way down field. The Spartans are giving up less than 60 rushing yards per game so this might not be Fitzgerald Toussaint’s night, but with Devin Gardner as a running threat, I think MSU will still have numbers in the box. So the passing game could be a solid option, but they just need to find a way to get into the red zone. In seven games, opponents have only reached the red zone 13 times. In those instances, opponents scored six passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and two field goals. So I think Michigan’s best option (best being an operative term) will be to attack the Spartans in the air by getting Funchess and Gallon involved and find that moment when the Spartans don’t have good coverage on both.
Sam, Minneapolis: I’m not liking the rest of the schedule. Is it possible Michigan goes 0-5?
A: First of all, anything is possible. The question is whether it’s probable or not. Michigan’s three toughest games the rest of this season will be at Michigan State and then against Nebraska and Ohio State at home. The Wolverines could go 0-3 in those three games. Michigan State has the nation’s best defense. Nebraska’s threat will depend on whether or not Taylor Martinez plays and which Michigan defense shows up. And Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. The Wolverines will need to play their best football in those three games to get wins.
Iowa and Northwestern will be interesting because they are road games. Statistically, Michigan should win, but when the Wolverines travel away from Ann Arbor, things seem to go poorly. I’ve been told over and over again that Iowa is one of the toughest places to play because the fans are basically on top of the teams. And the Hawkeyes could likely be playing for bowl eligibility in that game. I’m not sure Iowa will knock of Wisconsin or Northwestern, but it seems likely that it will take down Purdue for its fifth win and follow that up with a game against Michigan. It could be the Hawkeyes’ best chance for that elusive sixth win, and that’s dangerous. Northwestern is another interesting team because I don’t think anyone expected the Wildcats to start the conference season 0-3. But, it’s another road game and if Venric Mark is actually healthy by then, it definitely changes their attack.
So, is it possible? I suppose. The wheels could fall off here. But it’s also possible the Wolverines run the table and close out 5-0 if they play their best football. That’s the best/worst part of the Big Ten. Each team’s highs are high and their lows are low, and we’ve seen the best and worst of each team already this season. So now, it’s just a matter of which versions show up for which games.
Matt DePoint, Minneapolis: Who will grow the most creative facial hair for Movember? Taylor Lewan is a good guess but who is a dark-horse candidate?
A: This is a fantastic question. First of all, for those who don’t know, Movember is a month-long (yes, November, clever) campaign to grow awareness for men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer. Men grow mustaches to raise money and awareness. It’s a fantastic cause and one that I’m a fan of, especially since there are important people in my life who’ve been affected by prostate cancer.
Now, as far as the players, I think it’s smart to go with an offensive lineman. Last spring they were considering growing facial hair as a unit, and while that didn’t amount to much, I think they’ll come back strong for Movember. Lewan is a good guess (I mean, he has the mustache tattoo all year long, which probably takes the cake), but I’m going to pick Joey Burzynski here. Yes, he just suffered a season-ending ACL tear, but I think his time rehabbing will give him extra motivation to inspire the team. Also, since he can’t play, he won’t have to hide that beautiful ‘stache under a helmet anymore.
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.”
There’s lots to talk about. As always, send your questions in (@chanteljennings, jenningsESPN@gmail.com). I’m here every Wednesday.
John Babri, Kentucky: With the way the Wolverines looked in their last two games is there any hope for them in The Game?
A: Well, if Michigan plays like it did against Akron and Connecticut when Ohio State comes to town at the end of November, the Wolverines will get embarrassed. However, with that game, nothing really matters as far as stats and records. I would imagine that both teams will bring their A game and assuming Michigan’s offensive line can pull it together and protect Devin Gardner while also opening some holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, then good things could happen. However, if we’re still discussing offensive line depth/chemistry/whatnot in November, that will be a very, very bad sign for Michigan.
@SahamSports via Twitter: Where does the responsibility of the early struggles lie on Hoke, [Taylor] Lewan and leadership, Devin [Gardner], etc.?
A: All the above and some. The answer is never just one thing. I think you have some youth at key positions (interior offense line, wide receivers outside of Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon, quarterback -- yes, he only has a handful of starts). Add to that how the Wolverines didn’t prepare well for Akron and then maybe overprepared and overthought UConn and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. And it’s not as if Michigan’s offense is built to completely avoid turnovers. The Wolverines are relying on high-risk, high-reward plays because of some of that youth, and of late it hasn’t paid off.
Jerry Mead, via Twitter: Are we going to see more Derrick Green?
A: On Monday, Hoke said that he would like to lessen Toussaint’s load by giving Green and freshman De’Veon Smith some carries. That kind of an answer would benefit the Wolverines in multiple ways. For starters, it gives Toussaint a bit more of a rest through the game and season. But Green and Smith are built differently than each other and Toussaint, so it changes things up for defenses a bit when the Wolverines can shuffle different guys in there. With how effective Iowa was with the run last weekend against Minnesota, there’s a pretty good idea of what you need to do against the Gophers to get the run game going. If Michigan can open holes as well as the Iowa offensive line did against Minnesota, then I think we will see all three guys with some pretty impressive runs.
Mike Ziemke, Chicago: Do you think it's possible we'll have two redshirt freshman and three redshirt sophomores as our starting O-line next season?
A: I highly doubt that. I think Ben Braden will step in at right tackle and Erik Magnuson will come in for Taylor Lewan at left tackle, so that gives you two redshirt sophomores. Add to that Kyle Kalis, who I believe will keep his job at right guard -- so then you have three. The center and left guard positions will be interesting and we could learn a lot about those this weekend. At left guard, I think we’ll see more Graham Glasgow and Chris Bryant, which would be a redshirt junior. Center will be the most interesting because you’ll either have Glasgow, Jack Miller, Joey Burzynski (who’d be a redshirt senior) or redshirt freshman Patrick Kugler, which would be an interesting situation.
Obviously, Einstein didn’t play college football and didn’t account for the amount of chemistry gained by an offensive line from week to week (despite his work with chemistry).
But maybe on the football end of things Einstein had a point.
The Wolverines have been running with the same five up front. And for the most part (and especially of late), the results have been mediocre. The offensive line hasn’t opened enough holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint to really get going. And it hasn’t protected Devin Gardner enough to help him stave off the unnecessary turnovers.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has talked about moving some guys around on the offensive line -- though left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield would be safe. But with last weekend being the Wolverines’ first bye, it seems probable that if a change were coming, it would happen this weekend against Minnesota.
The Gophers’ defensive line allowed 246 rushing yards to Iowa last weekend in a 23-7 loss. Iowa’s offensive line opened up major holes in the run game as it picked up 13 of its 22 first downs on the run.
The Wolverines’ offensive line hasn’t been nearly that effective.
On Monday the depth chart showed no changes in the starting lineup, but Hoke said that he would know more after Michigan’s practice on Tuesday.
“We've talked a lot and done a lot during the bye week,” he said. “We got two real good work days with Tuesday and Wednesday, and I think really probably after Tuesday, we'll have a little better indication which way we want to go.”
If the Wolverines do decide to make a change, it seems most likely that redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow would move to center and redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant would fill in at left guard, keeping redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at right guard.
Hoke also brought up Joey Burzynski, so he could possibly be a guy competing for time, if the coaching staff decides that the group might be better off with Glasgow at center or any other mix that they “wouldn't have a problem making a change if that's what we deem we ought to do.”
But unlike most other position groups, changing up one player or one small piece can have a much larger domino effect in how the chemistry of the line operates. But according to Schofield, that wouldn’t be a problem because offensive line coach Darrell Funk has been moving players in and out of the line up all season.
“The whole season we’ve been shuffling guys in and out, trying to get guys going, like younger freshmen, get them reps,” Schofield said. “We’re just trying to get everyone acclimated.”
And while everyone might be acclimated and the chemistry is important, Hoke said that there are also other factors -- productivity, which this group, no matter how much chemistry it might have, hasn’t achieved.
“That might be more critical than chemistry,” Hoke said. “We've got to put the guys in there that give us the best opportunity to be successful.”
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.
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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For three seasons, Patrick Omameh was a significant, serviceable option for Michigan at right guard. He would rarely wow anyone off the line with a crushing block, but he also had his moments going against quality defensive linemen almost every week.
Now, though, Omameh is gone and Michigan will lose its most experienced offensive lineman. In his place, no matter who it is, will be someone with almost none.
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Two seasons ago, Michigan had the best center in the country, a guy with one heck of a mean streak and an edge that never really went away. Last season, the Wolverines had the opposite, a guy who might have been one of the more friendly players on the team and someone who was good in stretches and struggled in others.
For the third straight season, Michigan will have a new starting center and no matter who it is the player will have minimal to no experience.
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Yet another spot vacated by a departing senior on the offensive line, left guard for Michigan is going to be manned by someone with major potential.
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Those issues showed throughout this season, as Michigan’s offensive line was mediocre for most of the year, strong in small spots and awful when finishing blocks in the run game.
It is a problem, though, that became a huge issue for the Wolverines in 2012, and one they hope to remedy as soon as possible.
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Offensive coordinator Al Borges has not yet spoken to the media after the loss and while Michigan head coach Brady Hoke didn’t give many answers, this week’s Mailbag tries to explain some of what went on.
Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask, so send those to email@example.com or @chanteljennings for next week.
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