- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ben Braden has had to learn a lot over the past 18 months. He had to adjust to college. Needed to learn how to play college football.
And now, theoretically, the redshirt freshman has to learn a new position. Braden, who was recruited as an offensive tackle and is the potential heir apparent to Taylor Lewan, is now lining up at guard.
Making the move inside will be a transition, but it might end up helping Braden in more ways than he realizes. Moving to guard, be it for a year or even just the spring if he is beaten out for the job, gives him more versatility for his Michigan career. And for a potential career in the NFL later on.
“When you get in the NFL, you almost have to be able to play, unless you’re a starter, you have to be able to play guard and tackle on both sides and a lot of times center also if you want to make it as a backup on the team,” said former Michigan lineman Stephen Schilling, who played both guard and tackle. “For me, the switch from tackle to guard wasn’t as much as if you were playing the right side the whole time and you switch to left, because you muscle memory gets so used to doing things one way and you have to flip it.”
The first time Schilling made the switch was in the middle of his redshirt freshman season. He started 11 games at right tackle before learning to play right guard in a week and then starting there for the final two games of the season -- including a win over Florida in the Capital One Bowl.
The biggest difference, Schilling said, comes from the speed. While the players on the outside are faster when you’re playing tackle, the need for a faster reaction time actually comes on the inside.
Guys might be heavier at defensive tackle, but they are on you much quicker.
“Guys are bigger and have more bull rushes,” Schilling said. “Guys have to put on more weight on the inside just because of the nature of it.”
It is a transition, Schilling said, which likely won’t feel like one by the time the season starts because Braden would likely have enough repetitions there between spring practice and fall camp.
An advantage for Braden is he has someone already on the line who understands the transition down the line. Michael Schofield, now Michigan’s starting right tackle, played left guard in 2011 -- his only year ever playing anywhere other than on the outside of the offensive line.
Schofield said Braden has come to him looking for tips on making a successful switch and Schofield explained the move will have a lot of similarities to where he was before.
“The thing that helps the most is there are things that can relate,” Schofield said. “There are certain blocks that are the same. Like down blocks and everything. Pass protection is probably easy because you’re not on the edge now.
“Minor things, things that translate and go over.”
One of the biggest issues Schofield had was something most offensive linemen deal with anyway. Playing in between two guys for the first time -- a tackle will sometimes, but not always, have a tight end next to him -- caused for some communication issues.
And some crushed feet.
“I was always stepping on other people’s feet,” Schofield said. “Taylor would know for sure. I got him a couple of really good times when I was over there.
“Him and (David) Molk would both get pretty upset.”
Eventually, though, Schofield said the move felt natural and he looked -- and played -- comfortably on the interior. So did Schilling.
If he is still there by the time Michigan’s season starts in August, it likely will mean Braden has adjusted as well.