There’s a new offensive line boss at Michigan, and Ed Warinner has a big job ahead of him.
Michigan’s offensive line had issues with consistency last season, whether it was in the run game or pass protection,. Those inconsistencies were part of the reason why the offense ranked 105th in the country, averaging just 348.9 yards per game. They were part of the reason Michigan’s passing game produced just 9 touchdowns, a figure only nine teams in the country failed to match or surpass.
Starting jobs and significant reserve roles are going to be up for grabs when Michigan starts spring practice on Friday. For Michigan to be better offensively, it has to start up front.
Michigan and former offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Tim Drevno parted ways this offseason. Former tackles/tight ends coach Greg Frey also left the staff — for his alma mater, Florida State — but Drevno’s departure is the big change. He has since been hired at Southern California as the running backs coach/running game and pass protection coordinator after being a member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff 13 of the last 14 seasons. The two had a lot of success together, whether it was at the University of San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers or with the Wolverines.
His departure and the hiring of Warinner should be taken as a sign of just how important Michigan views the 2018 season. The 8-5 finish a year ago included losses in the final three games — at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State and against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl — when the Wolverines held leads in the second half of each game. They were outscored 57-0 in those three games after taking leads of 10-7, 20-14, and 19-3, respectively. The offense managed just 19 points after halftime in those games.
That’s not all on the offensive line, but the players up front have to be better this season at getting push in the run game on short-yardage and third-down situations, as well as holding up in pass protection. Michigan allowed 36 sacks last season. Again, not all that is on the offensive line, but it starts there.
Warinner told The Michigan Insider that his job is to make sure the “five best players are on the field” and he wants to “make the complicated seem simple.”
Here’s a run-down on the Michigan offensive line candidates heading into spring practice:
Michigan offensive line returning starters
Junior Ben Bredeson has started 20 games at left guard over the last two seasons. Could he be moved out one spot to left tackle to replace Mason Cole? Both tackle spots are question marks for the Wolverines. Grant Newsome is hoping to return from a significant right knee injury suffered in 2016, but he has not been cleared by doctors. Newsome’s healthy return would help immensely, but it’s not something Michigan can count on. Fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty (7 starts) and redshirt junior Nolan Ulizio (5 starts) split duties at right tackle before redshirt junior Jon Runyan started against South Carolina.
Sophomore Cesar Ruiz started the final five games at right guard but is expected to take over at center with Patrick Kugler joining the staff as a grad assistant. Ruiz was an Under Armour All-American and the nation’s No. 1 center in the 2017 recruiting class. Michael Onwenu started the first eight games of the season at right guard before being injured. He returned to start at left guard in place of Bredeson (injury) in the Outback Bowl.
Keep an eye on
Redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanellis didn’t start any games but earned playing time as last season progressed. He’s best suited to play the interior. It’ll be interesting to see how his development from last season carries over into spring practices.
Here come the redshirts
Ruiz was the only 2017 recruit to play as a freshman. Chuck Filiaga, James Hudson, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford redshirted last season. Filiaga was an U.S. Army All-American his senior season at Aledo (Texas) High School, and he’s capable of earning a starting job at one of the tackle positions. Hudson was switched to the offensive line after arriving in Ann Arbor as a defensive lineman from Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic. Stueber and Honigford will have a chance to get into the mix as the spring progresses.
The spring game is scheduled for April 14 at 7 p.m. ET. While the quarterbacks are going to draw the majority of the attention, what happens in front of them will be just as important.
Note: Michigan signed one offensive lineman in 2018, tackle Jalen Mayfield from Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Mayfield will join the team in June.