Last season Michigan’s sporadic offensive-line play resulted in a disappointing 7-6 finish and made head coach Brady Hoke hire a new offensive coordinator.
Doug Nussmeier was selected to revamp the Michigan offense because of his track record at Alabama and his experience as a collegiate and NFL quarterback.
But his biggest immediate challenge is rebuilding his offensive line which cycled nine players through its five starting positions last season while losing its two most consistent contributors, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.
Hoke praised the progress of lineman Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Ben Braden and David Dawson, denying that the absence of center Graham Glasgow (suspension), Eric Magnuson and Joey Burzynski (both out with injuries) will prevent the coaching staff from building a cohesive unit for next season.
“We would love to have all of them, no question about it,” said Hoke. “But we’re all pretty excited about how they’re working together.”
Defensive end Taco Charlton echoed Hoke’s evaluation of the offensive line.
“Ben Braden and David Dawson are strong, fast and quick on their feet,” said Charlton. “Ben Braden is a freak. Dave Dawson is real aggressive with a mean streak.”
Charlton also praised the progress of freshman early enrollee Mason Cole. “He’s getting better each time I go against him…I can see he’s going to be something special.”
The early word from spring practice is that Nussmeier has simplified and streamlined the offense, installing a run-first scheme that should allow his offensive linemen to be aggressive in attacking opposing defenses.
“It seems a lot easier than last season’s offense,” said running back De’Veon Smith. “It’s very high tempo, lots of energy…we get lots of reps…we’re getting better and better.”
Fullback Joe Kerridge was also enthusiastic about Nussmeier’s new offense, “It’s been a blast…it’s been good for the running backs.”
Prior to last season Hoke declared that Michigan was returning to a power-football scheme, but running back De’Veon Smith didn’t see a commitment to the running game in the play-calling.
“Coach Borges was more pass first and run second; Coach Nussmeier is run first.”
Michigan’s improvement depends on the offensive line improving and its ability to run the ball next season.
Spring practice is a difficult time to determine if the offensive line has truly improved, but early reports indicate that Nussmeier has emphasized the running game in a significant way, and players from all position groups are recognizing the change.
Phil Callihan is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.