Replacing Taylor Lewan is the single most important issue for Michigan’s offensive line, and it’s certainly one of the team’s top concerns heading into 2014.
At 6’8” and 315 pounds, Lewan embodied a fabled All-American Wolverines left tackle. A symbol of stability, fortitude and attitude, the three-year letterman started 48 games as his signal-caller’s blindside protection while simultaneously carving a niche as one of the greatest linemen to ever play in Ann Arbor—and in the Big Ten.
Now he’s gone—long gone, like gone within the first O-line picks gone.
Darrell Funk must quickly develop a suitor during the offseason, which was something he wasn’t able to do during the tumultuous 7-6 season. Giving reps to a youngster was impossible while the quarterback was relentlessly attacked each Saturday.
Team 134 needed Lewan, who opted to return for his senior year instead of declaring for the 2013 NFL draft. Without him, things would have hit the floor much sooner than Week 6.
An incredibly difficult hurdle to conquer, the poor play from Funk’s front had as much to do with Michigan’s failures as Devin Gardner’s turnover streak, Fitz Toussaint’s lack of zeal in the backfield and the secondary’s inability to consistently cover the deep ball.
They all fit—or didn’t fit, actually—together to form the mishmash puzzle that led to yet another subpar fall under coach Brady Hoke, who enters his fourth year this fall.
Preparing the next guy is necessary, and when the next guy has to cover for Lewan, well, that guy has his work cut out for him.
If Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon know what’s good for the program, they’ll be on Funk day and night until Team 135 has a viable contender at left tackle.
Who to Watch
Doug Nussmeier is the new offensive coordinator, so he’ll most likely make his own personnel decisions rather than rely on the philosophies once held by Al Borges, the former OC.
We tried Ben at guard, and he was like a fish out of water. So he’s at tackle, and we’re bringing him around. ... The biggest mistake you can make as a coach is to put a kid in a position where he’ll fail. Because if he fails, you could lose him forever.
You want to get the kid into a game when it’s his time. When you know he can succeed, when he knows he can succeed and the kids around him know he can succeed.
Borges’ words make sense.
Putting a player in a position to succeed is best.
As for Braden, he certainly has the potential to fill in at other spots. But if he’s indeed a “fish out of water,” perhaps keeping him glued to left tackle is the right call.
For starters, he has experience—that’s always a plus. He redshirted in 2012, giving him a year to mature both physically and mentally, and he saw a few snaps in 2013. Granted, he wasn’t a mainstay by any means.
And no, he wasn’t blow-you-away impressive, either.
But he was an All-Stater at Rockford High (Mich.) and was once thought to be one of the better prep left tackles of the 2012 class, evidenced by his No. 47 overall position ranking by 247Sports.
At 6’6” and 318 pounds, he’s approaching Lewan’s size.
That’s a positive, too.
He’s gained approximately 20 pounds since arriving to college, so the only way to go is up for Magnuson, who was the No. 9-ranked OT of 2013, per 247Sports.
At 6’6” and 295 pounds, he has the frame necessary to handle duties at one of the most demanding positions in all of football. He just needs a few more cheeseburgers to reach the Lewan plateau.
Magnuson would be a prime candidate to replace the All-American, but as of late fall, he was slated as Michael Schofield’s backup at right tackle. And like Lewan, Schofield is gone—Magnuson seems destined to assume Schofield’s perch.
One interesting scenario hovers over the tackles: What if Shane Morris is the quarterback in 2014? That would essentially make the right the left and the left the right.
Catch all of that?
Morris is a lefty, so the right tackle would be the “blind side,” not the left. Morris starting over Gardner, who’ll be a fifth-year senior, is unlikely. But keeping Magnuson at right would make sense if Michigan plans to make Morris the future.
Health will play a role, as Magnuson is expected to miss spring practices. Nonetheless, when fully charged, he’s a logical selection for left tackle.
As the O-line’s hotshot of national signing day 2014, the former East Lake High (Fla.) standout enters Michigan with a world of possibility. One of the most hyped of his class, Mason Cole promises to bring nearly immediate results.
He wants to win a national title, which is a great sign in a recruit. He sees the big picture, and that bodes well for continuity. That was an issue in 2013—the line didn’t play together. Far be it from a freshman, but someone has to take charge in 2014.
Why not Cole?
Lewan won’t be cloned over night. Cole could be the next, but Braden and Magnuson are options as well. As the line takes shape in spring, expect Cole, Braden and Magnuson to grapple for Lewan’s old job.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.