In the midst of significant change, Michigan’s offensive line has the potential to be a valuable strength or glaring vulnerability this season.
Touting one of the finest left tackles in the game, the offensive front boasts All-American Taylor Lewan, a senior who will be an early first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Lewan has a rare level of talent and gives the Wolverines an incredibly strong left side.
The right side, though, is a concern. But it could also be reliable, primarily because of senior right tackle Michael Schofield, who along with Lewan, serves as an elder statesmen for a line welcoming Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden and Jack Miller to the fold.
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According to Scout.com, Kalis, a 6’5”, 297-pound redshirt freshman, is behind Joey Burzynski, a junior, in the race for the No. 1 right guard position. However, multiple reports and sources have suggested Kalis should start in light of Patrick Omameh’s graduation. It’s likely he will.
Miller, a sophomore, is slated to take the starting job at center. Graham Glasgow, a sophomore walk-on, is listed at No. 2. The clock is ticking; a decision is on its way.
At 6’6” and 314 pounds, Braden, a redshirt freshman, stands to take the left guard position vacated by Ricky Barnum, who started there 13 times in 2012. However, a true frosh, Logan Tuley-Tillman, could challenge for starting reps as well.
Not completely settled at the moment, the line appears to be a puzzle with interchangeable parts, not necessarily components that fit in one spot.
Analyzing Depth at Tackle
First and foremost, the potential of injury to Lewan has to be addressed. He was banged up in 2012, but his play didn’t indicate there was much of a problem. Holding his own in an elite one-on-one battle, Lewan handled defensive end Jadeveon Clowney during Michigan’s 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina.
A candidate for several major postseason awards, Lewan’s importance can’t be stressed enough. So what happens if he falls?
Schofield, who has played on the left side of the line, would be an adequate replacement. In 23 career starts, he’s played left guard 10 times. He’s experienced enough to handle the move.
Lewan’s taken care of, but what about Schofield? Who’d get bumped to right tackle in his absence?
Erik Gunderson, a 6’8”, 312-pound senior, will likely be Schofield’s reliever. In 2012, he appeared in five games as a reserve lineman. In 2011, he debuted at right tackle.
Just like riding a bike, right?
Analyzing Depth at Guard and Center
Reserve action. That’s all Miller has on his resume. However, each of his 12 appearances have come at center. That has to be reassuring for head coach Brady Hoke, who has plenty of young but relatively inexperienced talent on his roster.
Right guard lacks experience. That’s all there is to say about that. Kalis, a former 4-star recruit per 247Sports, was one of the gems of Hoke’s 2012 class. He redshirted a year ago. No in-game snaps for him.
In 2011, Burzynski got his feet wet at left guard. He’s taken the field 12 times for Michigan as a reserve.
With Braden, a redshirt freshman, at left guard, the two positions straddling the center are the biggest areas of concern. A year ago, Tuley-Tillman, the apparent No. 2, played high school football.
That leaves Mateus, a three-time substitute at left tackle and Lewan’s backup, to fill in where needed. Since he’s a left-sider, it’s possible he could slide over to guard if the situation was presented.
Luckily for Michigan, there are two leaders willing to help make the several other underclassmen the best.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81