Michigan Wolverines: Kyle Kalis

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Time will tell whether Doug Nussmeier can fix Michigan's offense and finally install the kind of pro-style, power running game that Brady Hoke has talked about for the past four years.

One thing, however, appears certain: Whether Nussmeier succeeds or fails won't be because of a lack of energy.

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
AP Photo/Tony DingDoug Nussmeier added some energy to Michigan's spring practices.
The Wolverines' offense probably needed a shot of adrenaline after last season's highly inconsistent performance and lackluster showing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State. Their first-year coordinator was there to provide that jolt during the team's 15 spring practices, as his voice often was the loudest one vibrating off the Al Glick Field House walls.

"He jumps around and screams all the time," receiver Devin Funchess told ESPN.com. "I love the energy he brings to practice. We really have to match him."

Quarterback Devin Gardner called Nussmeier "an insane, crazy man" on the practice field. Offensive lineman Kyle Kalis said, "he's spunky." Nussmeier doesn't dispute those descriptions.

"We’ll exude our passion for the game," he said. "They spend so much time and energy preparing that we want to create an environment with high energy and positivity, and I think they’ve embraced that. I get excited when I get the opportunity to go out there with them on the field."

Laid-back types won't last long working under Alabama's Nick Saban, as Nussmeier did the past two seasons. His style is a little bit different than his Michigan predecessor, Al Borges. While Borges was a beloved figure around the team, he was a bit more professorial in his approach.

"He [Nussmeier] has brought in a different way of being a good football coach," Hoke said. "His passion and energy for what he does is obvious out there."

Hoke said it was very difficult to let Borges go because of their personal relationship, but he had followed Nussmeier's career for a while. He played with Nussmeier's agent while at Ball State and nearly hired Nussmeier when he took over his alma mater as head coach.

Nussmeier has simplified things in Michigan's running game, with the goal of becoming a much more north-south ground attack. The Wolverines averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last season -- second to last in the Big Ten -- and Fitz Toussaint's 648 rushing yards led the team. Nussmeier has has a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his last six seasons as coordinator, at Alabama, Washington and Fresno State.

"We want to play physical and be a balanced team," he said. "And that all starts with what you’re doing up front in the trenches and on the line of scrimmage."

That's also where Nussmeier's biggest challenge lies, as Michigan's offensive line struggled in the interior in 2013 and is relying on a lot of freshmen and sophomores in 2014. The Wolverines' season could well depend on whether those guys develop quickly this summer.

The good news is that Nussmeier isn't just all caffeine. Gardner says that while he's frantic on the field, Nussmeier is soft-spoken and direct in meeting rooms, calling him "one of the best teachers I've ever been around, including school."

Hoke concurs. Earlier this week, he praised his new assistant for his skill at teaching details and "his ability to command a room and get the attention of an offense."

There's little question that Nussmeier has the Wolverines' attention. Now it's a matter of making the necessary repairs.

"I think that’s exactly what we need," Kalis said, "A guy that's not going to accept anything but perfect."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When asked why Michigan's offensive performances went through such wild fluctuations last season, quarterback Devin Gardner didn't go looking for excuses.

"My play wasn’t as consistent as it needs to be," he told ESPN.com. "I feel like that’s where it starts. If I'm not consistent, then I don’t feel like the rest of the team can be."

Gardner is likely being too hard on himself. Sure, his season saw plenty of ups and downs. He had the two biggest passing days ever by a Wolverine against Indiana (503 yards) and Ohio State (451) and turned in some other huge statistical Saturdays. He also struggled with turnovers at times and was ineffective in ghastly offensive outputs against Connecticut, Michigan State and Iowa.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner played with a broken foot against Ohio State, but said it was something he had to do for his teammates.
Still, Gardner finished second in the Big Ten in total offense, and he and receiver Jeremy Gallon were the two most reliable weapons Michigan had last season. A spotty offensive line and poor running game served as much bigger culprits in the week-to-week unpredictability of the offense.

Yet Gardner understands that the responsibility for a team's performance almost always lies at the foot of the quarterback, fairly or not. The Wolverines lack many accomplished veterans, particularly on offense. Gardner wants to be the guy who lifts them out of mediocrity.

"If we don’t have a leader who's going to fight till the end, it's kind of hard for the guys that are following," he said. "I feel like that last game I played in, they really looked to me as a leader, as that warrior who will be there no matter what."

That last game, of course, came against Ohio State on Nov. 30. Gardner accounted for five total touchdowns and nearly led Michigan to the upset before his two-point conversion pass attempt was intercepted in the 42-41 loss. It was later revealed that Gardner had played most of the second half on a broken left foot.

Gardner said he wasn't sure that the foot was broken at the time but that he knew something was really wrong. There was no time to tape it or add any extra padding. So he just played through it.

"It was very painful," he said. "I wasn’t the only one hurting, so I just felt like I had to finish for my teammates.

"It's 'The Game' for a reason, and so you've got to give it everything you've got. So even if I had to hop on one leg , which sometimes I was, that's just how it had to happen. I told my teammates, 'All right, I'm not going to be able to move a little bit here, so help me out.'"

His teammates had already seen Gardner suffer bodily punishment for the cause, especially during a pounding at Michigan State. But this was something even more impressive.

"It's definitely not like we didn’t respect him before," offensive lineman Kyle Kalis said. "But when you see that, it's like, damn, this guy can really play through pain."

"Him going out there and being a warrior didn't surprise me," head coach Brady Hoke said. "But I think it was a learning experience for him also. He learned he can push through things. He willed himself to keep pushing."

Gardner surprised the Michigan coaches and even the medical staff by getting through all of spring practice. Heading into the final week of drills, he estimated that his foot was about 80 percent healthy. He didn't fare well in Saturday's spring game, going just 2-for-10 with an interception, but there's little doubt that he's the starting quarterback despite some spring talk of a competition.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is promising to install a more physical point of attack and a better north-south running game. Gardner, who carried the ball 165 times last year, is hoping that will help keep the wear and tear down during the season.

He needs to continue improving his decision making, and he has watched film of past Nussmeier quarterbacks Jake Locker and Keith Price from Washington and AJ McCarron from Alabama.

"Those guys get the ball out of their hands and are really efficient," Gardner said. "[Nussmeier] is so big on being efficient and on things he calls winning plays, which are checking down to the back or throwing the ball away when it's not there."

Nussmeier sees similarities to Locker in Gardner's game.

"He's obviously an exceptional athlete," Nussmeier said. "He's continuing to learn how to do some of things he'll be asked to do in this system. He has an extremely high ceiling and exceptional touch. His accuracy is really good when he gets his feet and eyes in the right place. He's working to find that consistency, and lot of that is understanding the progressions."

Nussmeier praises Gardner for "really making a commitment to elevating his level of play" this offseason. After a brief consideration about turning pro, which wasn't much of an option with his injury, Gardner said he returned for his fifth year because "I've got a lot of unfinished business." That includes, he said, gaining revenge on rivals Ohio State and Michigan State as well as ending Michigan's Big Ten title drought.

It's going to take more than just the quarterback to get all of that done. But Gardner says it all starts with him.

"You have to have the attitude that you're not going to get beat," he said. "You're not going to give up."


Video: Michigan OL Kyle Kalis

April, 7, 2014
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Michigan's Kyle Kalis talks with Brian Bennett about the progression of the Wolverines' offensive line.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan players are taught to tune out what the outside world is saying about them. But they're still kids, and criticism still finds its way through.

And so the offensive linemen couldn't escape all the negativity floating around about them in 2013. After all, it was virtually everywhere.

[+] EnlargeKyle Bosch
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIThe redshirt of Kyle Bosch, who was ranked No. 157 in the 2013 ESPN 300, was pulled in October last season as the Wolverines' offensive line struggled.
"It was tough last year, and I'm sure we probably didn't hear as much as there was because we're so busy," sophomore Erik Magnuson said. "Any time you're not labeled as a great offensive line when you're at Michigan or even a traditional Michigan offensive line, it definitely hurts."

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."
Michigan’s spring game is less than a month away, so we’re going to try our best to look into the future and make five predictions for the next few weeks and what we might or might not see in the scrimmage.

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.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Kalis
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesKyle Kalis and Michigan's offensive line should be expected to make strides this spring, but perhaps just small ones.
The offensive line will still be very, very young. The projected starters on the interior are a sophomore (Kyle Bosch) at left guard, a junior (Graham Glasgow) at center and another sophomore (Kyle Kalis) at right guard. Glasgow also has experience at left guard. Between the three, they only combine for 20 career starts at their respective positions.

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.

B1G spring position breakdown: OL

February, 28, 2014
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We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the big uglies.

Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.

Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.

Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.

Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.

Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.

Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.

Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.

Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.

Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.

Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.

Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.

Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.

Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
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Maryland Terrapins, Michigan Wolverines, Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan State Spartans, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Evan Lisle, Patrick Kugler, Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch, Brandon Vitabile, Michael Heitz, Travis Jackson, Damian Prince, Brandon Scherff, Brett Van Sloten, Donovan Smith, Jeremiah Sirles, Rob Havenstein, Simon Cvijanovic, Spencer Long, Taylor Decker, Ted Karras, Pat Fitzgerald, Andrew Donnal, Zac Epping, Gary Andersen, Graham Glasgow, Josh Campion, Jon Christenson, Jordan Roos, Jaden Gault, Paul Jorgensen, Blake Treadwell, Dan Feeney, Michael Deiter, James Franklin, David Hedelin, Tommy Olson, Zach Sterup, Kyle Costigan, Darryl Baldwin, Miles Dieffenbach, B1G spring positions 14, Andrew Nelson, Angelo Mangiro, Austin Blythe, Austin Schmidt, Betim Bujari, Cameron Cermin, Collin Rahrig, Connor Kruse, Conor Boffelli, Corey Lewis, Dallas Lewallen, Devyn Salmon, Dorian Miller, Eric Olson, Eric Simmons, Greg Studrawa, J.J. Denman, J.J. Prince, Jack Konopka, Jake Cotton, James Bodanis, Jason Spriggs, Justin King, Kaleb Johnson, Keith Lumpkin, Kodi Kieler, Kyle Dodson, Larry Mazyck, Marek Lenkiewicz, Mark Pelini, Matt Finnin, Michael Dunn, Mike Moudy, Mitch Browning, Noah Jones, Pat Elflein, Robert Kugler, Ryan Doyle, Sal Conaboy, Tommy Gaul

The Wolverines are less than a week away from signing day. Michigan still has its top recruit, Jabrill Peppers, in the fold, while the No. 2 and No. 3 commitments -- wide receiver Drake Harris and defensive tackle Bryan Mone -- have already enrolled.

Here’s a look back at Brady Hoke’s top three commits in each of his Michigan recruiting classes and what they’ve done so far in their careers for the maize and blue.

2013 class:

No. 1: RB Derrick Green

The freshman toted the ball 83 times this season, though if Hoke weren’t so loyal to his upperclassmen then Green probably would’ve taken over the job earlier from Fitzgerald Toussaint. Green finished the year averaging 3.3 yards per carry (third best on the team) and will look to be the featured back next season.

[+] EnlargeJourdan Lewis
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMichigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis just missed on a few big plays during his freshman season but showed promise for the future.
No. 2: CB Jourdan Lewis

Lewis appeared in all 13 games for the Wolverines this season but only tallied 17 tackles and two pass break ups. He picked up more reps as the season came to a close but he (like fellow freshman Channing Stribling) found himself in a lot of “close but not quite there” situations with wide receivers.

No. 3: G David Dawson

Dawson redshirted this season but his name was brought up a few times, specifically during bowl practices. He should be able to compete for reps next season but likely won’t crack the starting lineup.

2012 class:

No. 1: CB Terry Richardson

He didn’t get into a game this season after appearing as a back up cornerback in four games in 2012. He was known for his speed and quickness as a high schooler, but at 5-foot-9 he seemed a little bit on the smaller end for Greg Mattison’s defense.

No. 2: OLB Royce Jenkins-Stone

As a freshman Jenkins-Stone played in 13 games on special teams and once appeared as a backup linebacker. As a sophomore he again played on special teams and one game as a linebacker. In his career he has registered 11 tackles.

No. 3: G Kyle Kalis

He redshirted last season but started eight games this season at right guard. He missed some time because of an ankle injury but showed a ton of promise on a struggling O-line. His return next season should help solidify the interior offensive line and the aid the struggles the Wolverines had.

2011 class:

No. 1: CB Blake Countess

Countess came off his ACL injury and recorded a Big Ten-best six interceptions this season. His 42 total tackles was two shy of his freshman total. He should be the vocal leader of the secondary next season as a fourth-year junior.

No. 2: CB Delonte Hollowell

In 10 games this season Hollowell tallied just two total tackles. In just four of those games Hollowell saw time on defense, as he mainly played special teams.

No. 3: DE Brennen Beyer

Beyer played at SAM linebacker this season until Jake Ryan returned and then moved back to the defensive line, where he played in 2012. He accounted for 27 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks, one interception and five quarterback hurries.
The struggles of the offensive line were well documented this season. With several starting lineups and no real cohesion until late November, the Michigan O-line acted as a real speed bump to the Wolverines offense ever finding any kind of momentum.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Kalis
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThe good news in an otherwise tough season on the UM O-line is that young players like Kyle Kalis got plenty of experience.
THE GOOD: Several young players got game experience (this is the silver lining of having so many lineup changes throughout the season). So while it might have been frustrating that it seemed as though the offensive line never could find consistency with its five, the fact that several returning players -- Kyle Kalis, Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch -- all got real, in-game experience is going to be such a boost for them at Michigan. Obviously, it created havoc for the Wolverines in the short term, but in the long run it could be a good thing for Michigan. Also, it was good for Michigan to have Taylor Lewan named an All-American again this season. It keeps up Michigan’s tradition of having talented left tackles but also gives the players something to aim for.

THE BAD: Most of it. They say that if you’re going to have youth on the offensive line, then it’s best to have it on the outside. Unfortunately for Michigan, they had the experience on the outside. It was great for the Wolverines to have veterans at left and right tackle, but when you’re going into the season opener and your interior offensive line combines for zero starts, it’s generally a (really, really) bad thing. The fact that Michigan couldn’t figure out its starting lineup until far too late is the reason why the offense never got going and likely why Devin Gardner missed the bowl game (if he hadn’t gotten so banged up going into the Ohio State game, there’s a better chance he doesn’t injure his foot). For a program that emphasizes its strength in the trenches, this will be a season it looks to forget.

THE FUTURE: It could/should be bright assuming the talent that the Wolverines recruited is actually developed. Michigan really doesn’t have to worry about bodies. It has recruited the offensive line like crazy. In the 2012 class the Wolverines brought in four offensive linemen. In 2013 they brought in six, including five who were four-star recruits. And in 2014, they have commitments from two, including one who has already enrolled on campus. So as far as bodies go, they’re good. But this is where offensive line coach Darrell Funk needs to come in and really develop those players. The good thing about the players they do have is that they have experience on the interior, so as long as they can develop that, it should be much stronger than it was throughout the season.

Previous posts:
Quarterback.
Running backs.
Wide receivers.
Tight ends.
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. Now it's time to honor the top freshmen from 2013 with our Big Ten all-freshman team.

Here it is:

OFFENSE
QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (captain)
RB: Corey Clement, Wisconsin
WR: DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue
WR: Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska*
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota*
TE: Jake Butt, Michigan
OL: Dan Voltz, Wisconsin*
OL: Ben Lauer, Minnesota*
OL: Jack Conklin, Michigan State*
OL: Jacob Bailey, Indiana*
OL: Kyle Kalis, Michigan*

DEFENSE
DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State (captain)
DL: Austin Johnson, Penn State*
DL: Avery Moss, Nebraska*
DL: Willie Henry, Michigan*
LB: Michael Rose, Nebraska*
LB: Nyeem Wartman, Penn State*
LB: T.J. Simmons, Indiana
DB: Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin
DB: Desmond King, Iowa
DB: Tyvis Powell, Ohio State*
DB: Matthew Harris, Northwestern

SPECIALISTS
K: Michael Geiger, Michigan State
P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State
All purpose: Dontre Wilson, Ohio State

* -- redshirt freshman

It was a pretty strong year for freshmen in the league, highlighted by Hackenberg and Bosa. Shelton was terrific as well. ... Tight end is a promising position for the future. Penn State's Adam Breneman just missed, but he looks like a future star. And Michigan State's Josiah Price had a big impact in the Big Ten title game. ... Nebraska's young defense could really turn into something special. We also considered defensive lineman Vincent Valentine and linebackers Jared Afalava, Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas. ... It was also a good year for rookie QBs, as beyond Hackenberg there was Purdue's Danny Etling, Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner. ... Ohio State's Wilson didn't have a true position, but he did a lot of things and was a good return man, so that's why he gets our all-purpose slot. ... Some others we considered included Penn State receiver Geno Lewis and linebacker Brandon Bell, Purdue offensive lineman Jason King and Indiana defensive lineman Ralphael Green.
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.”

Planning for success: Michigan

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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Michigan is heading into a game against a winless Big Ten team as an underdog. That’s where the Wolverines are right now. Offensively, Michigan is jumbled without any cohesion up front, the running game has suffered mightily, and Devin Gardner has gotten to know opposing defensive linemen like family.

Michigan’s defense has also struggled at points, especially against the option last weekend versus Nebraska. This weekend, they’ll face more of that. If Michigan wants to reverse its downward trend, here’s what needs to happen on both sides of the ball:

[+] EnlargeZaire Anderson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan's offensive line needs to prevent Devin Gardner from getting beaten up like he has been in the last two games.
OFFENSE:

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Al Borges said that the Wolverines two biggest struggles right now are pass protection and running the ball. That’s kind of a two-step guide to what not to struggle at in football. And it’s what killed the Wolverines against Michigan State and Nebraska.

Michigan will stick with its offensive front, hoping to continue building chemistry and investing in its youth. But it needs to do a better job protecting Gardner because he can’t take any more seven-sack games.

At this point, Michigan will stick with its current five starting offensive linemen because looking back isn’t really an option at this point of the season.

“If we just keep changing, then you have new guys making new mistakes,” Borges said. “You can change everybody, but it’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve done enough of that. We have to allow our football team to grow. With that, some growing pains. That’s just the way it is.”

That doesn’t mean that other guys such as Kyle Kalis won’t see the field, but the starting five will stay the same.

And so will the running back situation.

On Wednesday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that he still considers Fitzgerald Toussaint the Wolverines’ featured back and doesn’t see freshman Derrick Green surpassing Toussaint's number of carries.

With that, the Wolverines need to find a way to get Toussaint yards. With the Iowa linebackers and Ohio State's defense on the horizon, NOrthwestern's defense might be the easiest defense for Toussaint to find yardage against. Whether that means the offensive line actually gets push and opens holes in the middle or him going off tackle, Michigan needs to find a way to get a rushing attack going.

DEFENSE:

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is of the opinion that his defense will be good enough when it finds a way to win each game.

This weekend against Northwestern, that’ll be asking a lot because Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter possess a threat much like Nebraska posed last weekend with the option, leaving Mattison to decide how to pressure.

“I’m trying to pressure, thinking we can get home, and they check to option,” Mattison said. “That’s the fine line where you decide if you’re going to be a pressure team in passing situations, or are they going to change their game plan and check to a running play? There were a number of times when we came out of it okay, and a couple times we didn’t.”

Michigan will try to get pressure up front, and with this being Brennen Beyer's second game back on the defensive line, the gained chemistry from practice could show as Mattison works up different schemes and blitzes.

But Mattison said that the scout team offense had actually given the first-team defense a good look of what Northwestern will run Saturday.

“That’s a huge thing, especially as the season goes on, when your numbers go down a bit,” Mattison said. “You’ve got to do a good job to make sure you get a great look.”
Putting together the Michigan offense this season has been a bit of a puzzle for coach Brady Hoke and his staff. But the part that has proven to be the most difficult is also the part that gets it all going -- the offensive line.

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.

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.
Even with that, Hoke was happy with the push from the offensive line and the protection it provided for quarterback Devin Gardner.

“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)
C: Glasgow
RG: Kalis (Burzynski)
RT: Schofield (Magnuson)

Indiana:
LT: Lewan
LG: Joey Burzynski (Kyle Bosch)
C: Glasgow
RG: Magnuson (Kalis)
RT: Schofield

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.”
Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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.”
Even at 4-0, we've seen the best and worst out of Brady Hoke's team this season. With four games under the Wolverines' belt and eight (or nine ... or 10) more to go, here's what we've gathered, and have yet to gather, about this Michigan team.

What we know so far

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner, Jefferson Ashiru
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDevin Gardner has been both a playmaker and an enigma through Michigan's first four games.
1. When Michigan is on, it's very, very pretty. The Wolverines rolled against Central Michigan and Notre Dame. Following those two games, Michigan was being talked of -- understandably so -- as a top-10 team, and quarterback Devin Gardner was in Heisman conversations. That has been derailed a bit since, but it was pretty apparent that when Michigan is kicking on all cylinders, it's a hard team to stop, and it fields a defense that can stop others, too. If the Wolverines can find that groove and keep it, they could head into the final weekend of November undefeated.

2. The linebackers might be the most solid position group on the team, even without Jake Ryan. Who would've thought that was possible? When Ryan went down with an ACL tear, for many Michigan fans it seemed as though their worlds were crashing down. But instead, Brennen Beyer has been a very good SAM linebacker, and Desmond Morgan and James Ross III both have been solid. Not to mention the depth behind those three in Cameron Gordon and Joe Bolden. With the expected return of Ryan sometime in October, it's pretty crazy to think how talented the linebackers will be and what exactly they'll do to distribute the wealth. Assuming Ryan is back in tip-top shape, the Wolverines could use Beyer on the both the D-line and at SAM ,as he has played both over the two years, or, Mattison could scheme completely differently.

3. The defense has bent but not broken -- under Greg Mattison this has seemed to be a trait of a Wolverine D. Whether it be because they lack depth at certain positions or the offense just keeps putting them in tough spots, the Michigan defense has found itself in a number of tight situations but been on the winning end nearly all the time. Between the quick-change situations because of turnovers or the quick scoring situations in other games, the Wolverines have found themselves trotting on the field just as quickly as they left it. In a lot of young teams, that kind of mental turnover can create mistakes, but Michigan hasn't been a victim of that too badly. The defense obviously needs work, but their focus and ability to respond hasn't gone unnoticed.

Lingering questions

1. Is there enough talent/depth to put together an offensive line? Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield seem to be safe. However, the interior three spots are written in pencil, as Hoke and Al Borges have said over and over again. But the interior line has struggled quite a bit, specifically the last two games. Lewan said that Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis displayed a sense of urgency in the second half against UConn, but that was about six quarters too late. Michigan really hasn't funneled anyone else through there, so the coaching staff was either waiting until the bye week to test guys at different positions, or they don't have enough depth (or they have too many injuries). It could be a combination of many things, but there's a decent chance that we won't see the same starting five against Minnesota.

2. What happened to Gardner? Can it really be fixed? Can it be avoided? Throughout his career, he seemed completely unfazed by the pressures of being a Michigan quarterback, going through a position change, stepping into the spotlight, what have you. But for some reason, all that came crashing down against Akron and UConn. The young, inexperienced Gardner came to the forefront, and for the most part, he looked out of synch. But give him some props -- when Michigan desperately needed a score against the Zips and Huskies, he got the Wolverines in position to get one. But outside of that, the turnovers looked atrocious. Worse yet, Hoke said they've reached a point where they're re-coaching him, or having to give him the same correction multiple times, because he's making the same error multiple times. That was not a problem earlier in his career. But it's crucial Michigan figures out what happened to Gardner, not only so they can fix it, but also so they can avoid it in the future.

3. Is the secondary going to step up? The Wolverines' defensive pressure up front has steadily improved through the non-conference schedule, and that has helped all the defenders behind it. It seems strange to start up front when discussing a problem with the secondary, but part of the reason the secondary is giving up so many big pass plays is the fact that the D-line's pass rush hasn't always been fantastic. Every single play of 20 or more yards the Wolverines have given up has been through the air. The secondary has played soft coverage time and time again, and the players keep getting beat. The Wolverines are going to face quarterbacks -- like Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- that will try to exploit that as much as they can, because that'll only open up the run game for their backs (or for themselves).
Michigan’s first bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. With its performances against Akron and UConn, a run game that hasn’t really gotten going and a pass game that has struggled mightily, the Wolverines are getting to the root of their problems.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan coach Brady Hoke doesn't rule out a lineup change -- or two -- in his offensive line.
And a lot of times, that involves looking at the offensive line.

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.”

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12