Much of the blame for last season’s 7-6 record falls on the Michigan offensive line.
Injuries and poor performance caused nine players to be cycled through the five offensive line positions as Brady Hoke searched in vain for a combination to protect quarterback Devin Gardner and jump-start the the running attack.
Replacing star tackle Taylor Lewan, who was taken with the 11th pick in this years' NFL draft, might seem like an impossible task. But, in truth, Michigan might be better off without Lewan, whom despite having first-round NFL talent was a distraction both on and off the field.
Lewan returning to play his senior season was a welcome surprise for the Michigan coaching staff. He was projected as a first-round draft pick following his junior season, and many experts predicted that he would enter the 2013 NFL draft.
Instead, Lewan returned, announcing his decision to return shortly after Michigan’s 33-28 loss to South Carolina in the 2013 Outback Bowl.
But rumors soon began to circulate about Lewan’s involvement in an incident regarding a sexual harassment case against teammate Brendan Gibbons, as it was alleged that Lewan intimidated the female victim shortly after it occurred in 2009.
That is not exactly the team leadership most teams would want from a team captain.
As the offensive line struggled, Lewan’s frustration also bubbled over during games, as he earned a reputation for bad penalties and cheap shots after the whistle. Hoke voiced his disappointment with Lewan for losing his composure during a 29-6 loss rival Michigan State: “It’s not what we want to portray or be, it’s not who we are.”
The off-field problems went from Internet rumors to the police blotter after Michigan fell 42-41 to Ohio State. Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press reported that Lewan is facing three assault charges after an altercation with opposing fans. Questions about the incident followed Lewan during bowl preparations and during his preparation for the NFL draft.
He was still drafted early in the first round in the 2014 NFL draft, so his problems during his senior season didn’t harm his draft stock.
Lewan acknowledged getting carried away during games to John Glennon of the Tenneesean, stating, “...there is definitely a line… and I think there were a couple of times that I absolutely overstepped it in my career at Michigan.”
But as Michigan prepares to rebuild its offensive line for next season, Lewan’s graduation may be a case of addition by subtraction.
His talent may be missed, but his bad penalties and off-field drama won’t be.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.