ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Losing a chance to land graduate transfer Calvin Anderson leaves a gaping hole on Michigan’s offensive line.
Anderson, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle from Rice University, announced Saturday that he will transfer to Texas for his final season of eligibility. He chose the Longhorns over Michigan, Oklahoma and Auburn.
Michigan’s offensive line needs a makeover after an ill-fated 2017 in which the Wolverines gave up 36 sacks and lost quarterbacks Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters to injuries.
Anderson’s addition would have stabilized a line that enters 2018 in transition. Michigan lost left tackle Mason Cole and center Patrick Kugler to graduation. On Saturday, it missed out on a player whom Pro Football Focus considered to be one of college football’s top pass protectors at tackle.
Without Anderson, Michigan can’t count on the help of a veteran player who could have taken over the left tackle spot in a pinch and provided leadership.
Michigan needs to roll the dice on its younger players to step into spots where they need to immediately contribute. Among those players are Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber, James Hudson III and Joel Honigford.
Michigan has 17 returning offensive linemen on its roster, including 12 who will be second- or third-year players. But the Wolverines enter 2018 with little experience on the offensive line, save for guards Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu. Michigan also has to find a permanent fixture at right tackle. Nolan Ulizio (five starts), Juwann Bushell-Beatty (seven starts) and Jon Runyan Jr. (one start) simply weren’t up to par.
Michigan can’t pin its hopes on Grant Newsome’s return, either. Newsome, a tackle, has been sidelined for more than 18 months after he suffered a severe knee injury in October 2016, and his status for 2018 remains unclear.
Filiaga is the most logical candidate to step in at tackle, given his size (6-6, 345 pounds). His high school coach, Steve Wood, told Land of 10’s Kevin Goheen that Filiaga spent his first season at Michigan learning a complex offense, and that Filiaga needed to redshirt.
“Don’t get me wrong, he can do it,” said Wood, who coached Filiaga in 2016 at Aledo (Texas) High School. “It’s just about 100 percent him having it down. He’ll figure it out.”
Wood offered no hints on where Filiaga would play, or where he stands on Michigan’s depth chart, but said Michigan’s coaches continue to emphasize versatility on the offensive line.
“If you’re a tackle, you need to learn how to play guard, and vice versa,” Wood said. “Really, that’s kind of the way we do it. Learn the whole pattern, the whole scheme, so you’re interchangeable. When you get to that level, you don’t want to go to your seventh-best player if you don’t have to.”
Again, Michigan’s depth on the offensive line isn’t an issue, but its inexperience is. The Wolverines signed only two linemen in their 2018 class, Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes. Mayfield has promise. He can play at either tackle position on the offensive line, but Michigan’s true freshmen offensive linemen typically redshirt.
With Anderson’s move to Texas, it creates a new challenge for the Wolverines.
Michigan has no choice but to improve its offensive line. To do that, it has no choice but to take chances on its youth.