The Michigan football team opens spring practice on Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has plenty to shore up with the Wolverines as they prepare for the 2018 season.
Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard says the focus should be on fixing Michigan’s offensive line. Land of 10 reporter Rachel Lenzi says the focus should be on determining a starting quarterback.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING JIM HARBAUGH NEEDS TO ACCOMPLISH IN SPRING PRACTICE?
CHRIS HOWARD: FIX THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Outside of a few key coaching hires, this offseason has been uncommonly quiet for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Battles with the NCAA over satellite camps, Jordan Brand partnerships, Twitter spats with rivals, climbing trees, sleepovers and 24-hour news coverage of what Harbaugh is doing today seems like ancient history.
Make no mistake. The Michigan football program needed every ounce of press, good or bad, Harbaugh was able to generate. His name alone wasn’t going to be enough to convince elite players from around the country to take a chance on a program in shambles. The program needed a makeover that needed to be loud. It needed to be reintroduced to the college football world.
I interviewed University of Michigan football graphic artist Aaron Bills on my podcast The Player and The Fan, and I asked him, “What was the objective given to you by the staff?”
“Make Michigan cool,” Bills answered.
Using Harbaugh’s personality, accompanied with the in-house graphics and video teams, they did just that. Michigan was cool again. Michigan was winning football games, and recruits were lining up at the door.
As we stand here today after a disappointing 2017 season, followed by a meh 2018 recruiting class, the fandom that gave rise to Harbaugh Mania has subsided, for now. That is a good thing for Harbaugh. With expectations measured, Harbaugh can get back to being a good football coach instead of being viewed as a savior.
Harbaugh’s most important objective ties directly to his most important hire — coach Ed Warinner, tasked with boosting the offensive line. Michigan lost its most versatile lineman, Mason Cole, to graduation. Cole started as a freshman, played multiple positions and never missed a game. Losing that kind of production hurts, but it isn’t insurmountable if you have good coaching. I think we have that in Warinner.
The development of the offensive line is crucial because it will determine Michigan’s season just like it has for what feels like a decade of below-average offensive line play. Harbaugh and his staff must come out of spring feeling good about who they have on the offensive front. That would be maybe not a penciled-in starting group, but at least a top 7 who are performing so well he wishes he could play them all.
If Harbaugh and his staff solve the offensive line problem, that will allow them to be more creative with the playbook and the play calling. That will allow them to put pressure on defenses instead of vice versa. Harbaugh can’t sit around and wait to see what happens with transfer quarterback Shea Patterson’s eligibility to determine what kind of offense the Wolverines will run.
The game is won in the trenches, and Harbaugh knows that. The Wolverines will go as far as the offensive line takes them.