(Photo courtesy of Michigan Athletic Department.)
As I stated in part one, the offensive line is going to be the key to Michigan's success in 2009, more so than any other position. Having a new quarterback who can run the system is nice and so is having experienced skill players around him, but if the five men up front do not do their job next season they will not go anywhere.
They will be the key to whether the offense can move downfield and score. They will be the key to the defense staying on the field, and they will be the key in making sure that Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson have room to make their freshman mistakes. Perfection should not be expected from those two, but it will be expected from the offensive line because of Michigan tradition and the fact that they have all played a full season under Rich Rodriguez and should have a feel for his system that they did not have last year.
Last month at an alumni gathering in Washington DC, Coach Rodriguez said that last year the players bought into the system but they bought in with questions in their heads, he also said that this season they have bought in without any questions. This is going to need to be true for the linemen. While they got considerably better as the season progressed as demonstrated by the games against Purdue and Minnesota, they still had a long way to go by the end of the season. In the spring game they dominated the second team defense and were creating gaping holes for Forcier, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown to run through.
With the starters from last year's line returning, it seems like the picture should be clearer for the team. Fifth-year senior left tackle Mark Ortmann will be trying to replace the irreplaceable Jake Long for a second straight season, but this year he will have the playing experience that he never got in his first five years of school due to the mammoth lineman's All-American status. If he can at least show flashes of Long's dominance and versatility this team will be in good shape for next season.
Fellow fifth-year David Moosman will be playing guard, in addition to having the best name on the team (sorry Vladimir Emilien and Boubacar Cissoko) will be the starting guard after splitting time between guard and center last season. Although he's played primarily at right guard in his career, don't be surprised if he moves to the other side of the line with another fifth-year Steve Schilling moving from right tackle to guard. This will arguably be more important than who gets to play quarterback, because if this move fails than it may cause the downfall of Michigan's offense. If Schilling doesn't work out as a guard then yet another fifth-year will have to step up in Tim McAvoy, who got a lot of reps last year in splitting time with Moosman and David Molk.
Molk, a Junior, was quite possibly the lone bright spot at center last season. Of all the mistakes he could have made being in his first season as a starter with a new system, he did not flub a single snap, and with all of the shotgun plays that they ran last year that is extra remarkable. The Wolverines will need him to be solid as the center this upcoming season as well because it is likely that he will be taking every snap, because of this he has been placed on the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list, awarded to the best center in the nation at the end of every season.
Others in the mix for playing time will be junior Bryant Nowicki at tackle, redshirt freshman Patrick Omameh at tackle and guard, junior John Ferrara will probably fill in at guard after famously being moved from defensive tackle last season. Junior Perry Dorrestein will get some reps at tackle this upcoming season and along with Nowicki and Omameh is expected to challenge for the starting spot at right tackle next season.
Also of note with this offensive line, is the quantity of redshirt freshman who are now eligiable to play on it. Including Omameh, there are six redshirt freshman who will be offensive linemen this upcoming season. This will undoubtedly help the Wolverines depth and create chances for the young players to be able to get experience before the current starters graduate which will be crucial for Michigan's success in the future as well.
Keith Jackson once said that college football games are won and lost in the trenches, in this case it will probably be an entire season and quite possibly the coaching career of Rich Rodriguez that will be won or lost there this season.
Stay tuned for my defensive preview.