As running backs do, De'Veon Smith dodges and dances around blockers.
However, during a media session Wednesday at the university’s Towsley Museum, the Michigan sophomore was straightforward and concise when asked about his offensive line. Despite losing Taylor Lewan, an All-American left tackle, and Michael Schofield, an All-Big Ten-caliber right tackle, the 5’11”, 220-pounder says the Wolverines won’t experience lag up front.
“I think our offensive line is better than it was last year,” he said. “I would say that confidently. I believe in my offensive line and I just can’t wait to see what they can do this year.”
Of course, there are checks to be made. Devin Gardner, the starting quarterback, was sacked 34 times in 2013, the third-most among FBS quarterbacks. An average of 3.3 yards per rush only added to the woes of the Big Ten's No. 10-ranked total offense.
This year, being sharper is the only option. And as a whole, the O-line has shown “definite” improvement since this past year’s 7-6 tumble, says Smith, who enters the season as 1A or 1B on the depth chart (his status can change daily).
During this past Saturday’s scrimmage, other than Mason Cole, a true frosh who’ll likely start at left tackle, the linemen weren’t at all consistent; quarterbacks were harassed, running backs were stopped in the backfield and plays collapsed before they even started.
But Saturday’s follies can’t be solely blamed on the guys in the trenches. The running backs have to make certain they're on the same page as well.
“We have to get better with our progressions,” says Smith, who wasn’t overly pleased with his showing under the lights. However, with coach Fred Jackson’s guidance, the position group will—and he stressed will—establish a steady “downhill” attack.
During his meeting with the press, Hoke revealed a starting front—the one that would "start today,” that is.
LT: Mason Cole (6'5', 292 pounds, Fr.)
LG: Erik Magnuson (6'6", 294, RS So.)
C: Jack Miller (6'4", 299, RS Jr.), Patrick Kugler (6'5", 299, RS So.), Graham Glasgow (6'6," 311, RS Jr.; scheduled to return and start in Week 2).
RG: Joey Burzynski (6'1", 299, RS Sr.), Kyle Bosch (6'5", 303, So.), Kyle Kalis (6'5", 298, RS So.)
RT: Ben Braden (6'5", 322, RS So.)
Seemingly set on most of the lineup, Hoke said that he's keeping an eye out for right guard candidates such as Kalis, who can play both sides, and Bosch, another versatile cog with which to experiment. Burzynski's also a clear option.
“We have an idea, but I don’t think we’re set at that right guard position right now,” Hoke said, later adding, “We still have to move the line of scrimmage better, and that’s a constant that we’ll have.”
Since failing to conquer the middle ground (and its own defense) on Saturday, the line has escalated efforts in order to support its backs and "make things easier" for the team.
Smith attributes "improved communication" between backs and brutes as one of the reasons why he's ready to co-sign for his shield of mammoths, which has "done great things" since disappointing over the weekend.
Blocking is on the rise. Assignments aren't being missed as often. Backs are hitting gaps, holes and lanes, and they're gaining decent yardage in practice.
Plus there's that Cole kid—Cole man, rather—who has the potential to be pretty special in Ann Arbor. And he's just getting started, which is all the more encouraging.
"I wouldn't think he was a freshman if I just met him," said Smith, laughing. "He's a very mature person and [O-line] coach [Darrell] Funk is getting him right every day. He's a very mature person."
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.