ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As Michigan prepares to round out its 2018 recruiting class, it looks to firm up its offensive line for 2018 and beyond.
A lack of pass protection, combined with a middle-of-the-pack rush defense, turned the offensive line into a major problem area in 2017. Michigan gave up 36 sacks last season, which was 12th in the 14-team Big Ten Conference and 114th nationally, and lost quarterbacks Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters at separate points in the season to injury.
Developing the offensive line will be vital for Michigan’s success in 2018, and the tackle position is a continuing work in progress. Michigan can solidify its offensive line if it can secure commitments from offensive tackles Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jarrett Patterson.
Petit-Frere and Patterson are two of Michigan’s top targets among high school tackle, and join Rice’s Calvin Anderson, who is considering the Wolverines a graduate transfer, on Michigan’s wish list.
Neither Petit-Frere nor Patterson have announced their college commitment, and they likely will do so closer to National Signing Day on Feb. 7. Petit-Frere is considering Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Patterson’s final choices are Michigan, UCLA and Notre Dame.
The Nicholas Petit-Frere File
The 247Sports composite lists Nicholas Petit-Frere of Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Fla., as a 5-star prospect, rating him as the No. 7 player in the Class of 2018 and the No. 1 offensive tackle. Michigan’s two 5-star prospects from the 2017 recruiting class — wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon — each earned playing time as freshmen. Peoples-Jones played at receiver and at punt returner, while Solomon was brought on gradually to allow him to adapt to the college game on a deep defensive line.
But if Petit-Frere is to commit to Michigan, he’d join a different position group, whose needs are much more immediate with the losses of Mason Cole and Patrick Kugler along the offensive line.
CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming projects Petit-Frere as a player who could immediately step into Michigan’s offensive line and make an impact.
Petit-Frere has size (6-foot-6, 272 pounds), speed, athleticism and a cerebral outlook that applies outside football.
“He’s one of my top 5 offensive linemen in the country,” Lemming said. “When you talk to him, it sounds like you’re talking to a 30-year-old, not an 18-year-old.
“He asks a lot of academic questions to the coaches, and I was very impressed with him.”
The Jarrett Patterson File
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Jarrett Patterson is a 6-foot-5, 285-pound 4-star recruit from Mission Viejo, Calif. Patterson stands out for his quickness, athleticism and work ethic, as well as his versatility — he can play at both tackle positions.
“Jarrett isn’t as far along as Petit-Frere, but he had a good senior year,” Lemming said. “He was a questionable 3-star player who picked up his game his senior year, and that got a lot of people after him.”
But the question with Patterson is this: Is he ready to immediately step in as a freshman and contribute to an offensive line that remains in transition?
Only three 4-star recruits have earned playing time as freshmen in Jim Harbaugh’s three recruiting classes. Grant Newsome played in 5 games as a left tackle in 2015. Cesar Ruiz played in 10 games (with 6 starts at right guard) in 2017. Ben Bredeson played in 13 games (with 6 starts) in 2016.
While Petit-Frere would have a better chance to make an immediate impact at Michigan, Lemming said he considers Patterson a player who will gain a long-term development in a college football program.
“That’s the norm with most offensive linemen,” Lemming said. “Redshirt his first year and let him gain strength and get acclimated to campus. That’s the position where you need to put on more weight than any other player in a program.”