ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mason Cole is constructive when he discusses the future of the Michigan offensive line.
He doesn’t point out what he sees are the unit’s shortcomings. That might be out of courtesy, as he’s a bit biased. Cole is about three months removed from playing his final game on Michigan’s offensive line.
Cole realizes, though, that Michigan’s offensive line has to rediscover its identity this fall. Still, he doesn’t see the offensive line as a reclamation project as much as a work in progress.
The Wolverines’ offensive line ended 2017 as the team’s biggest uncertainty. Michigan surrendered 36 sacks and 83 tackles for loss. There was no clarity at right tackle, and Michigan needs to replace Cole at left tackle.
That doesn’t deter Cole’s outlook for the Wolverines’ offensive line.
“Nothing really changes in an offensive line,” said Cole, who started 51 games at left tackle and center in four seasons at Michigan. “You’re always working for the same thing. You’re always working together and that’s the biggest thing for them, going forward. Keep getting better. Keep getting closer.”
Cole is graduating and preparing for the NFL draft, but he is optimistic about Michigan’s future, especially with Ed Warinner as its new offensive line coach. Warinner replaces Tim Drevno, and Warinner has had success in working with offensive lines at nine FBS programs, including Notre Dame, Ohio State and Minnesota. Warinner’s immediate task is to fix Michigan’s offensive line.
“He’s got the guys headed in the right direction,” Cole said of Warinner. “Not that Coach Drevno didn’t, but he’s going to be helpful, and I’m excited to see it.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has set the interior line at the start of spring practices: Cesar Ruiz will replace Patrick Kugler at center, Ben Bredeson will remain at left guard and Michael Onwenu will play at right guard. Harbaugh also mentioned Stephen Spanellis, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford as candidates to play at guard.
Tackle, however, is the biggest question mark for the Wolverines, especially with former Rice tackle Calvin Anderson choosing Texas over Michigan for his final year of eligibility. Grant Newsome (serious right leg injury) remains a question mark and hasn’t been cleared to practice, and Michigan’s starting tackles could come from a group that includes Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Jon Runyan Jr., Chuck Filiaga and James Hudson.
“Eventually, you’re going to get the best five linemen that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “I think Ben will stay at guard. He’s a good guard. He’s been starting since his freshman year and has the strength to move a three-technique. I feel like that’s where he’ll be the most valuable to our team. And the tackles will train and compete there, as well.”
Cole said versatility on the offensive line will help Michigan’s returnees.
“That was huge,” Cole said of playing at multiple positions in four seasons. “That’s a lot of credit to this staff, making sure everyone knows their stuff. Going forward, I think that’s big for guys who are preparing for the next level.”
But before Michigan’s offensive linemen consider the NFL, they have to prepare for the upcoming season. Cole doesn’t offer much more advice. Instead, he offers some final encouragement.
“Those guys don’t need advice,” Cole said. “They’re headed in the right direction. I can’t wait to watch these guys this year and in the years to come. They’ve got a really special group there. I’m really excited to watch them.”