To say that the Michigan offensive line struggled last season would be a massive understatement.
However, the position group, which faced constant shuffling because of poor play and injuries, did have one bright spot: offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.
Lewan, who returned to complete his senior season, didn’t reach his goal of leading Michigan to a Big Ten championship, but he did start every game and is projected by many to be a mid-first round draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft, including some of CBS Sports' top gurus.
Michigan’s struggles seemed to wear upon Lewan, who sometimes let his temper get the best of him, both on and allegedly off the field.
As seen in the above video, Lewan was caught on camera grabbing the face mask of a Michigan State player. He was also investigated for an altercation with Ohio State fans following Michigan’s 42-41 loss to the Buckeyes this year.
Lewan addressed the allegations to Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News.
“I’m not going to get in too many details —I wasn’t in any fight. I didn’t hit anybody,” Lewan said. “I was really just trying to help out a situation and break up something. I really can’t go into any more details than that.”
Brady Hoke now needs to replace Lewan while hoping that the interior of the offensive line drastically improves from last season. After last season’s poor play, every position is up for grabs, but the following players are the top candidates to replace Lewan.
Ben Braden, 6’6”, 318 pounds (Junior/Sophomore Eligibility)
Lewan himself referred to Braden as “the most physically gifted individual I've ever seen in my life” to reporters at the Big Ten preseason media day in Chicago, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
The coaching staff attempted to move Braden to guard last spring but the experiment ultimately failed and he was moved back to tackle where his size and reach are better served. He played tackle in high school and was named to the Detroit Free Press Football Dream Team as a senior.
It remains to be seen whether Braden’s physical skills will translate to success on the field, but he appears to have the inside track to replace Lewan heading into spring practice.
Blake Bars, 6’5”, 291 pounds (Junior/Sophomore Eligibility)
Bars practiced at center during bowl preparation this year, but he was originally recruited to play tackle. He has the physical size to be in the mix to replace Lewan if Braden doesn’t seize the job.
Mason Cole, 6’5”, 284 pounds (Freshman)
Who will replace Taylor Lewan at left tackle for Michigan?
It’s extremely unusual for a true freshman to start on the offensive line, especially at the crucial left tackle position, but a 7-6 finish in 2013 may lead to unusual opportunities for incoming players.
With every offensive line position being up for grabs, there is the slight possibility that Cole may see game action. He has enrolled early to start weight training with the team and will participate in spring practice, which gives him an outside chance to be in the mix by the fall.
Cole has the body type, speed and agility to compete at the left tackle position but if he emerges as the starter next season it may be more due to a lack of depth among the returning lineman or the result of injuries.