The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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28 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 BY JOHN BORTON T he Wolverines lost 80 percent of their starting offensive line from the 2019 season. No, make that 100 per- cent. Check that — it's 80. The whiplash for OL coach Ed Warinner 's crew felt like riding the Tilt-A-Whirl in August and Septem- ber. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Jalen Mayfield — the lone returning starter, and one whose NFL stock soared when he capably handled Ohio State defensive end Chase Young last fall — was on board. Then Mayfield jumped ship when the Big Ten gave its purported final word — no season. Then he scam- pered back up the boarding ramp when the conference reversed course, getting cleared to play even though he'd signed with an agent. contributor and former U-M All-Big Ten offensive lineman Doug Skene in- sisted it's incalculable what that means for this offensive front. Mayfield's presence in the huddle, in meetings, in the locker room, etc., with those who haven't played can make a world of difference, he assured. And while Mayfield got back up to speed following his absence, the rest weren't waiting around. "That group is starting to come to- gether, in my eyes," offensive coor- dinator Josh Gattis said. "It's a lot of new faces, but a lot of old heads — guys who have been in the building, that have been around, veteran types of players." There's no better example than the Wolverines' projected start- ing center, fifth-year senior and former walk-on Andrew Vas- tardis. The 6-3, 296-pounder out of Ashburn, Va., has been at Michigan all four years, finding his way into 11 games. Now, he's r e a d y t o take over in the middle, an d isn 't a bit shy about c o m m u n i c a t - ing everything his offensive line teammates need to know. " I c a n ' t s a y enough great things about V," Gattis insisted. "He's the guy that gets it go- ing at the center position for us from a communications standpoint, making sure everybody's on the same page. "Being able to replace your center is always an important piece. We feel like we've got a very important piece with Andrew Vastardis. He's backed up and has some competition there from [redshirt freshman] Zach Car- penter, and we want to keep develop- ing that room." They're developing in overdrive with the season at hand. Like with Vastardis, the materials aren't new to Michigan. At left tackle, the guy who began last year as a starter looks to take over once again. Ryan Hayes, a 6-7, 302-pound redshirt sophomore from Traverse City, Mich., started the first two games of 2019 for the injured Jon Runyan Jr. Hayes appeared in 12 U-M contests, and Warinner has him prepped for a bigger role. It's the same with redshirt junior right guard Andrew Stueber, who looked set for a big year in 2019 before injuring a knee in the preseason. The 6-7, 339-pounder from Darien, Conn., has made a pair of starts at tackle, but will now deliver a big presence inside. "These guys are going into their third and fourth year in the program," Gattis pointed out. "They're not your typical freshmen or first-year players that you're looking to replace a lot of your offensive linemen with." A very strong candidate for the other guard spot is another veteran, and also mammoth. Chuck Filiaga, at 6-6, 345 out of Aledo, Texas, could team with Vastardis and Stueber to provide nearly 1,000 pounds of beef in the mid- dle of the Michigan line. He's getting a challenge from another younger performer, 6-6, 327-pound Trevor Keegan, a redshirt freshman from Crystal Lake, Ill. The Wolverines feature a strong competi- tive situation, with the young chal- lengers pushing the vets, and Mayfield leading the way. "He wants to be an elite talent," Gattis said of Mayfield. "He wants to be a first-rounder. We feel really, re- ally good about where we are now, as well as building depth. Guys like Chuck Filiaga, [redshirt freshman] Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, just to name a few, are stepping up. [Red- shirt freshman] Trente Jones has had a great camp. "We feel very strong right now about the depth that we have. The pieces are starting to come together." The most familiar piece remains the most important, at least for starters. Mayfield admitted in an interview with the Big Ten Network that he ap- preciated how his teammates never wrote him off. "It was like recruiting all over NEW WAVE IS LOOKING TO MAKE WAY FOR SUCCESS OFFENSIVE LINE Redshirt junior Andrew Stueber has appeared in 14 games and started twice at tackle, but is expected to slide inside and claim a starting position at guard this fall. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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