The Wolverine

December 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 67

DECEMBER 2018 THE WOLVERINE 27 BY CHRIS BALAS H ow concerned were Michi- gan coaches that they might be outmanned on the offensive line this year? Publicly, they'd probably never ad- mit it. But actions speak louder than words, and there was a reason they were going hard after Rice graduate transfer tackle Calvin Anderson, who ended up at the University of Texas. That left the Wolverines in a less- than-ideal position heading into the 2018 season. Redshirt junior Grant Newsome, who suffered a cata- strophic knee injury in 2016, retired after doctors advised him he could lose his leg if he hurt it again. Fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell- Beatty was improving but probably best suited for the right side of the line, where he's played almost his entire career (and is playing well this year), and rookie Jalen Mayfield, while talented, was still a freshman. So head coach Jim Harbaugh and new offensive line coach Ed Warin- n e r w e n t w i t h w h a t a p p e a re d to be a long shot, moving redshirt junior right tackle Jon Runyan Jr. to the blind side at the start of camp. After one re- ally rough game at Notre Dame in which he allowed two sacks and struggled throughout, it didn't look good. The son of the Michigan 1990s All-American of the same name was the weak link on a line that struggled mightily, and he was the first to admit it. "I did go back and watch the Notre Dame game [during the bye week]," Runyan said. "I was kind of hesitant to at first. It kind of made me sick to my stomach looking at myself in that game, just seeing where we were at that point. "I just watched that to remind me of where I came from, my first start at left tackle in a big game, to see how far I progressed and the offense has progressed. … I remember that feel- ing watching that game film. I don't want to have that feeling again." Other than spot duty in a game last year, the season opener against Notre Dame was the first time Run- yan had played left tackle since high school. What he lacks in ideal height at the position at 6-5, he makes up for with athleticism and long arms that help him literally keep ends at arm's length. He was recruited as a guard and battled for time inside on the right side for much of last season — six of his nine appearances came at that interior position. Since the move out- side, he's slowly ascended to become one of the team's biggest surprises. He really started getting comfort- able in Michigan's 56-10 win over Nebraska Sept. 22. He was named the team's offensive lineman of the game three weeks later in a 38-13 blowout of Wisconsin. "Those two games, I thought I played really well," Runyan said. "We were just having fun out there. Those games were really fun, es- pecially under the lights [against Wisconsin] on ABC … those are the games you grow up watching and live for. That was really awesome." Runyan threw a key block on ju- nior quarterback Shea Patterson's 81-yard run against the Badgers and more than held his own against a solid Wisconsin line. A week later, Runyan and Co. paved the way for 183 yards on the ground against a Michigan State de- fense that came in leading the nation in rushing defense. Several former Michigan linemen reached out to praise them for their performance, marveling at how far they'd come. Runyan saw the same after he watched the MSU game again. "Watching Notre Dame I was like, 'Wow, that was a really bad play,'" he remembered. "I was losing my technique in the heat of the moment in the pass game and run game, got beat inside … making sure that doesn't happen anymore is some- thing I was really try to work on, and I didn't see many of those blunders in these past games. Watching the Michigan State game, the progress has been amazing." Former Michigan All-Big Ten of- fensive lineman Doug Skene is among those who noticed. The ana- lyst has detected cohesion on the line he hasn't seen in a decade, and Run- yan is a big part of it. "Runyan is playing out of position at tackle, but he's gotten so much bet- ter over there as well," he observed. "You can see it by the aggression he shows, and it's obvious the technique is becoming second nature to him, while the aggressiveness becomes first nature." Skene's not the only former Michi- gan lineman paying attention. Ru- nyan Sr. now works for the NFL as their vice president of the policy and rules administration, and sometimes comes across film of his son's games. "I wouldn't say he really critiques me. He only gets involved if I come to him with any questions," Run- yan Jr. said. "He tries to stay out of it, doesn't try to get too involved, but he's always there for me when I want his opinion or anything. "When he doesn't have much to do he'll sit in office and watch film, text me some stuff every now and then." Pro Football Focus graded Runyan as U-M's top offensive player who logged at least 16 snaps in the MSU game — though he wouldn't have known if his mom hadn't seen it on Twitter, he admitted with a laugh — and the service lists him as the team's highest-graded starting offen- sive lineman after 10 games. However, there's only one opinion he's really interested in. "I don't really care about their grade as long as I grade out well in this building with this coaching staff," he said. "I know if I grade out well there then I'm really doing my job." He can rest assured knowing he's no longer part of the Michigan line's problem, but a big part of the solu- tion instead. ❏ ON THE RISE Left Tackle Jon Runyan Jr. Is One Of U-M's Most Improved Players

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