Could you address the offensive line situation and how likely you think it is to take a step forward next year? I find it hard to be confident unless one of the redshirts turns out to be a special player or Grant Newsome comes back 100%.
Thanks to Julian for the mailbag question.
My response is after the jump.
First of all, it’s important to gauge the starting point. Michigan’s statistics from 2017:
- #7 in Power Success Rate
- #20 in Adjusted Line Yards
- #41 in Passing Downs Line Yards
- #47 in Stuff Rate
- #57 in Standard Downs Line Yards
- #90 in Opportunity Rate
- #104 in Passing Downs Sack Rate
- #117 in Adjusted Sack Rate
- #118 in Standard Downs Sack Rate
One thing is pretty obvious: Michigan was terrible at pass blocking last season, especially on standard downs. That means Michigan’s play action passing game was ineffective, which isn’t too much of a surprise. Not only are Michigan’s running backs not extremely threatening, but the quarterbacks were confused and ineffective, which increased the sack rate. If a ruffled quarterback turns his back to the defense and then can’t find anyone to throw to immediately when he turns around, bad things happen.
What starters is Michigan losing?
- The Left Tackle: Mason Cole started 51 straight games at Michigan, including 13 at center in 2016. He was Second Team All-Big Ten in both 2016 and 2017.
- The Center: Patrick Kugler has already seemingly given up on a pro career in favor of coming back to Michigan as a grad assistant in 2017. That might give you an idea of how effective he is and how he would be viewed at the NFL level.
So what starters will be returning in 2018?
- The Left Guard: The left guard last year was Ben Bredeson, who started in both his freshman and sophomore years.
- The Right Guard: Rookie Cesar Ruiz started 6 games at right guard last season, even though he was recruited to play center. With center being a tough position to play, guard is often a starting point for future centers, especially when they play early.
- The Other Right Guard: Sophomore Michael Onwenu started at right guard for the first half of the season, and he played left guard in the Outback Bowl when Bredeson was injured. There was a stretch of the year when Onwenu went to the sideline in favor of Ruiz.
- The Right Tackle: For the majority of the year, redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty started at right tackle, including seven straight games. He ended the year, however, with being sent home from the Outback Bowl.
- The Other Right Tackle: Redshirt sophomore Nolan Ulizio started the first five games of the season at right tackle before being replaced by Bushell-Beatty. Ulizio struggled mightily, especially in the passing game.
They say about quarterbacks: “If you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have a starting quarterback.” Well, Bredeson is pretty proven as a decent piece on the left side, but the jury is out on Ruiz/Onwenu and Bushell-Beatty/Ulizio.
The good news is that reinforcements are coming. I know people grow sick of hearing, “It will get better next year” but there is reason to believe that’s accurate. And if we’re being honest, it’s tough to get any worse in some of those rankings when there are only 130 teams in the FBS.
Michigan returns its most promising players on the inside (Bredeson, Onwenu, Ruiz), and that’s probably where much-hyped “offensive tackle” Chuck Filiaga fits best, too – at offensive guard. Meanwhile, Jon Runyan, Jr. has some experience and looks like a fairly solid option at right guard or right tackle.
The biggest question marks are at left and right tackle, and I think Michigan has four options with good upside. I’ll list them here in order of highest to lowest upside, in my opinion:
- Grant Newsome: Newsome was a very solid left tackle in 2016 before a devastating knee injury almost caused him to lose his leg. He says he plans to be on the field this year, and he’s participating in off-season workouts. Will he return to the field, and will he be as good as (or better than) he was in 2016? I don’t know. But we’ve seen production from him there, and it would be excellent for the team – and for him – if we see it again.
- Ben Bredeson: Yes, Bredeson playing tackle is an option. He was supposedly in a neck-and-neck race with Newsome for the left tackle job as a true freshman in 2016, though he ended up at left guard. If he plays tackle, I think he’s better off on the right side, but this line looks significantly better with Newsome at LT and Bredeson at RT.
- James Hudson III: Here’s one of the redshirt freshmen you mentioned, and I’ve been saying since he was recruited that I think he has more upside on offense (LINK) than as the defensive tackle he was originally labeled. Some insiders are already saying that Hudson looks like he’ll be starting at one of the tackle spots next year after he spent most of 2017 practicing on that side of the ball.
- Andrew Stueber: Stueber is another guy that some people have been excited about, and he has the body for the tackle position. Aside from Newsome, Michigan has been starting guard types at tackle over the past couple seasons, but that trend could change if Stueber pans out.
In an ideal world, here’s what happens:
- LT: Newsome gets healthy and returns to form.
- LG: Bredeson remains if possible to give Michigan a very good left side of the line. If he’s needed at RT, plug in Runyan.
- C: Ruiz starts and stays healthy, because Michigan doesn’t have anyone else.
- RG: Onwenu remains and learns to pass block.
- RT: Bushell-Beatty, Filiaga, Hudson, and Stueber duke it out. If they all fail, you can play Bredeson here.
The bottom line is that it’s a very iffy situation. There is reason for positivity (new faces! Newsome might return!), and there is reason for negativity (new faces! lack of development by Drevno!).
I’m looking forward to seeing how these guys look in the spring.
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