ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Each time he watches film of himself practicing against the Michigan defensive line, tackle Jon Runyan Jr. learns what he does wrong.
“You’ll get beat, then you’ll go back and watch it the next day and it’ll be like, ‘I can’t lead with a punch like that, I’ve got to stay up, I’ve got to keep my feet square,’ ” Runyan said. “And you’re going against the best of the best, so if you can win every now and again against them — and you’re not going to win every time — you’ll be able to win the games.”
Going against Michigan’s defensive line starters is constructive for Runyan and for the Wolverines’ offensive linemen. It’s part of a plan that offensive line coach Ed Warinner and defensive line coach Greg Mattison installed into Michigan’s spring practice regimen.
Warinner and Mattison are working together to make the starters on the offensive and defensive lines stronger by practicing against each other.
Coaches typically avoid the risk of wear and tear upon players by rotating first-team position groups against second-team position groups in practices. Unlike previous years, Michigan’s first-team defensive line practices against its first-team offensive line. Michigan aims to improve an offensive line that was subpar in 2017. Warinner wants to see how his offensive line matches up against a defensive line that helped Michigan become the No. 3 defense in the nation in 2017 (271 yards allowed). It also wields two of the nation’s top defensive ends in Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich.
“We have a very good defense, we all know that,” said Warinner, who became Michigan’s offensive line coach in March. “There’s a lot of reasons why they’re good but they have really good personnel. They’re well coached. But can our personnel match up with their personnel? And the only way you can find that out is to practice against them. We do that all the time in the spring. That makes you better and that allows you to see, are you going to be able to compete against the best teams, week in and week out? If you can hold your own against that defense, you can hold your own against anybody. That’s the way to challenge them. That’s where the bar needs to be on our side of the ball, on our offensive line.
“Can we play against that defensive line? Can we block Rashan Gary? If we can do that, we can hold up against the teams we play.”
Mattison has noticed improvement in the offensive line’s aggression. He’s quick to point out the growth in guard Ben Bredeson, center Cesar Ruiz and Runyan. He likes the benefit of collaborating with Warinner, who has coached offensive lines with eight FBS programs since 1987.
“He likes doing it, I like doing it,” Mattison said. “It wasn’t anything drastically different. But what it was, was saying, ‘We want to get to become the best D-line in the country and you want to be the best offensive line in the country. Why should we go against our own guys? Why don’t we go against each other?’ And that’s how you do it in the NFL. Rather than beating our heads against a wall, we practice against each other.
“The kids are smart enough now and old enough now to [know] you don’t get in fights, you don’t take it past where you should, you’re just practicing the blocks and everybody’s good. We’re trying to help each other.”