There aren't many better O-Liners than Michigan's Taylor Lewan.
Owning the line of scrimmage was once a staple of Michigan Wolverines football—and thanks to a renewed attention to detail, Brady Hoke’s program looks like it’s getting back to basics.
With left tackle Taylor Lewan anchoring the offensive line and a platoon of ends and tackles on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan stands to have two productive units ready to claim their place in the battle of inches.
Lewan is the obvious leader on the offensive line, but there are others who will surely complement the senior this fall. Frank Clark could have a phenomenal year at defensive end and help thrust the Wolverines’ defense to the top of the Big Ten.
Lewan may be the best linemen in college football. The 6’8”, 309-pounder is the ultimate in blind-side protection for quarterback Devin Gardner.
Lewan could have entered the 2013 NFL draft and been selected early in the first round. His choice to stay at Michigan was proof of his dedication to his team. While staying in school sometimes backfires, Lewan will most certainly be one of the first players taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
Having a bulldozer capable of running a 4.8-second 40-yard dash is a plus for Gardner, who will likely be more of a pocket passer this season. However, if he decides to run like Denard Robinson, his predecessor, Gardner will have a speedy mountain of an athlete clearing paths to the open field.
Michigan has more than enough bulk to plug into other areas of the offensive line. Kyle Kalis, a 6’5”, 294-pound redshirt frosh, is a likely starting option at either left or right guard. The same can be said for Ben Braden, a 6’6”, 285-pound redshirt froshcapable of filling in at tackle or guard.
Michigan has choices, and the competition for the No. 1 roles should provide plenty of excitement during summer camp.
Check out the Wolverines’ depth chart via TheWolverine.com (Rivals). Offensive coordinator Al Borges has the task of mixing and matching, but he has enough talent (and size) available to make the offensive line a force to be feared.
Having talented youth is always a plus. But Michigan’s offensive line lacks experience. Ricky Barnum’s time in Ann Arbor is through; he leaves a line that has just two seniors: Lewan and tackle Michael Schofield.
Barnum wasn’t a star on the line, but he was a steady contributor, making 16 starts and appearing in 22 games. He got the starting nod at left guard 13 times in 2012.
Patrick Omameh, a guard, also graduated. Filling the 6’4”, 299-pound void that he leaves will be a challenge. Omameh started 41 consecutive games at right guard. He had more starts than the rest of the youngsters have combined.
Michigan looks like it’ll have a sound pair of defensive ends in 2013. Frank Clark and Jibreel Black have each shown that they have the muscle to bully the opposition.
Black will definitely be a player to watch; he had three sacks in 2012 and five tackles for a loss. At 6’2” and 280 pounds, he has the size to bounce around to different positions, giving Michigan a little versatility to work with in the pass-rushing department.
Black is at his best when he’s attacking the quarterback.
And the Wolverines need that—they’ve lost three starters on the D-Line, including Craig Roh, one of their top defenders and quarterback chasers during the past four years.
Clark is set for a breakout year. With linebacker Jake Ryan out due to an ACL injury, Clark has the potential to be Michigan’s spark plug on defense.
Clark’s athleticism is his obvious strength, but his mental and personal development will pay dividends. He was charged with second-degree home invasion last summer. A low point in his career, Clark hopes to rebound and prove to his teammates and coaching staff that he’s no longer a liability.
Clark spoke of the incident after the spring game with MLive/AnnArbor.com’s Kyle Meinke, saying the following:
It would be an understatement if I tried to tell you how much I learned from it. It woke me up as a player and as a teammate. I basically dedicated the last (months) to everybody on that team, especially the guys on defense, because I know how much it could have cost them if I would have been out the whole season.
But due to the coaches putting their trust in me and giving me that second chance, there's nothing more I could ask for. The players just all had my back. The coaches all had my back. ... When you got everyone rallying for you, and rallying with you, there's nothing more you can ask for from a team. You develop a love for those people who are there for you
It’s difficult not to expect a young man with a new lease on life to shine—second chances aren’t always given, and Michigan’s defense will benefit from Clark’s desire to produce.
In 2013 freshmen Henry Poggi and Taco Charlton, Michigan recruited a pair of 4-star standouts who could see time at defensive tackle or end.
Will Campbell will be missed. There’s no other way to say it.
The 6’5”, 308-pounder’s motivation was often questioned, but he showed up to play against Ohio State in 2012. Although Michigan lost 26-21, Campbell had a career-high 10 tackles.
The former Detroit Cass Tech 5-star sensation started 11 times at defensive tackle and played in 51 consecutive games.
Luckily for Michigan, Ondre Pipkins could fill in and make the transition smooth and painless. The former 4-star recruit (2012) suffered a neck injury prior to the start of last season. He could have started as a true freshman, so he’ll have a shot to show Michigan followers what they missed by coming strong out of the gate in 2013.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81