The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 83 of 163

82 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW OFFENSIVE LINE BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner has more than proven himself since head coach Jim Har- baugh brought him on staff in 2018, bringing consistency and a sense of purpose to the men up front. Jon Runyan Jr., for one, went from a huge question mark to first-team All- Big Ten starting left tackle in one season under Warinner's tutelage, while the rest of the starters showed significant improvement. This fall will provide U-M's third-year line coach another opportunity to work his magic. The Wolverines lost 80 percent of their start- ing front from 2019, and all of them were at least two-time All-Big Ten honorees of some sort. Runyan, left guard Ben Bredeson, center Cesar Ruiz and right guard Michael Onwenu were not only all drafted in April, but Ruiz was a first-round pick. Even more impressive, the foursome be- came only the second quartet in history to go from starters and teammates on a collegiate line to NFL Draft picks the next year. That is a lot to replace, but it's not all bad news for Warinner and his group. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Jalen Mayfield re- turns after an honorable mention All-Big Ten season in which he played his best football down the stretch, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis seemed optimistic heading into the summer. "When you look at the offensive line position, you potentially consider we have about three starters coming back," Gattis explained. "Considering [redshirt junior] Andrew Stueber is a guy who has played in the past, we have three guys who have start- ing experience with [redshirt sophomore] Ryan Hayes in the mix, as well. "We feel like we have a good nucleus of guys that have played in games, whether it's been late in games or starters, and then a good group of young guys that have been here over the past year or [longer] that have gained valuable experience from a depth standpoint." The competition was supposed to take place this spring, at which point the coaches wanted to identify their top five — not nec- essarily a starter at each position, but the best quintet they could put on the field, then identify their positions and see who worked best together. But trying to mix them in without seeing them, especially with so many young guys vying for playing time, has been a huge chal- lenge when the only contact they've been allowed has been virtual. There was only one true battle on the line last year, Stueber ver- sus Mayfield at right tackle, and it was too close to call before Stueber went down with a season-ending knee injury late in camp. Should he come back healthy and win the right guard spot (where he's expected to compete), the right side could be very good. Former Michigan All-American lineman Jon Jansen, privy to practice and a big part of the program while recording his "In The Trenches" podcast from Schembechler Hall, sees great promise in this year's group, led by that experienced trio. "I don't make the depth chart, but it was neck and neck [between Stueber and May- field last summer], no question about it," Jan- sen said. "Jalen has done a good job solidify- ing one of the tackle positions, and Ryan has done a good job of solidifying the other one. "I initially thought they'd be moving May- field over to left and Hayes over to right, but before spring ball was supposed to start, Coach Warinner said those guys are really comfortable in those positions and he didn't really want to move them." If Stueber comes back and claims a spot — and that's a big 'if' given how much ca- pable talent is competing with him — Warin- ner will have three guys with substantial experience. The 6-7, 334-pounder started two games two seasons ago, including the season finale at Ohio State, and has a strong desire to play. In that respect, Jansen said, he is reminis- cent of 1997 lineman Zach Adami, the starting center on the national championship squad. "Stueber is a kid that just wants to be on the field," Jansen said. "When you have a kid who just wants to be on the field, it doesn't matter if he's a tackle, guard, center … he just wants to be out there, that's what you need to pair with the ability of a Ryan Hayes, a Jalen Mayfield. Put him in there and you could have a great trio. "Zach was like, 'Coach, just put me in the game. I can play at guard, tackle, center, whatever you need; I just want to be on the field.' I think Stueber is going to do every- thing he can to make that happen." Stueber has continued to progress in re- habbing his knee injury and should be back to full strength by fall, Gattis reported. How- ever, he is not the only one who has been working hard physically. Hayes (6-7, 299), a redshirt sophomore, is one who needs to continue to get bigger and stronger, but he was the offensive MVP of the Middle Tennessee State game last year in his first start, which came at left tackle. The former tight end continues to grow, and it is no surprise that he has a fan in Jansen, who also came in as a tight end and contributed mightily as a redshirt frosh. "He's a fighter. He's an athlete," Jansen stressed. "It's obviously been seen before that you can go from tight end to tackle and play as a redshirt freshman. I'm not sur- prised at all because he's a good athlete. He worked extremely hard in the weight room, put some weight on." Missing spring ball had to have hurt his development from an experience standpoint, but it gave him an opportunity to concentrate on his body. "Hayes has got good footwork." Jansen continued. "The nice thing about what I've seen him do over the last 18 months, even though he's heavier than he was when he came in … he hasn't lost the quickness of his feet. That sometimes goes when, instead of being 250, you're 300 pounds. "That's a big difference, but he's done a good job of continuing to work on his foot- work and keeping that up to where it needs to be." Mayfield, meanwhile, enters the season with huge expectations after earning hon- orable mention All-Big Ten honors from conference coaches last year. The 6-5, 319-pounder started all 13 games and was playing his best football by the end of the year. Jansen felt like he was watching a future NFL tackle when he saw Mayfield handle Ohio State's Chase Young, the 2020 draft's No. 2 overall pick. That breakout perfor- mance has Mayfield himself on a lot of too- early 2021 mock drafts and big boards. "It was fun to watch him," Jansen said. "He has the mentality that will spread through the offensive line. "I like his willingness to improve. Some guys, they get that starting nod and all of a sudden that's good enough for them. That's not good enough for Jalen Mayfield. He wants to master being an offensive tackle." If he plays all 12 games like he did the Ohio State game, Jansen continued, he could be one of the nation's best. "He played great last year," he said. "Ev- ery week there was something you saw the week before where either it was bad hand [placement], or balance, or a bad step, but A New Look Michigan Must Replace Four Blockers That Were NFL Draftees

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - 2020 Football Preview