Michigan set to begin rebuilding project on offensive line
Michigan has a problem.
The Wolverines' list of departing players is headlined by Denard Robinson, the face of the team and the one player who was able to produce on the ground behind an inconsistent offensive line.
But another issue is at least three other departures played on that offensive line, and a fourth is expected to join the exodus.
Michigan has to do major repair work to replace senior left guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and right guard Patrick Omameh. And, that task becomes even larger if left tackle Taylor Lewan declares for the NFL, as expected.
That will be the Wolverines' top offseason task.
But defensive tackle Will Campbell is confident the future is bright, after facing many of the young guys in practice.
"They got a big offensive line coming back. It's going to be fun to watch," the senior said Tuesday after Michigan concluded this season with a 33-28 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
"Powerhouse football. Big Ben Braden, you got Kyle Kalis, you got (Erik) Magnuson, they're going to have a good team. They're going to have (Michael) Schofield anchoring them as a senior leader."
Schofield, who played right tackle this year, is the lone assured returner from this year's unit. The senior, along with Lewan, were the strength of the line and Schofield now will have to assume leadership.
If Lewan departs for the NFL, Schofield is expected to slide from right tackle to left tackle, where his experience will help protect quarterback Devin Gardner's blind side.
The rest of the positions are up for grabs -- and could be filled solely by underclassmen.
Based off coach and player assessments, Kalis appears to be a leader at one of the guard spots and Braden at right tackle. Both are true freshmen.
Magnuson, another redshirting true freshman, could challenge for that tackle spot, although players have been higher on Braden.
The center position likely will be filled by sophomore-to-be Jack Miller. His biggest competition will be walk-on Graham Glasgow, who also will be a sophomore.
The final guard spot is a little more uncertain. It could go to Chris Bryant, who will be a sophomore. He was one of the standouts of last year's bowl practices, but the 318-pounder fractured his leg in fall camp and did not play this year.
Junior Joey Burzynski also will be in play. He had a strong spring camp and vaulted into starting considerations at left guard, but spent the season as Michigan's little-used sixth lineman.
Other candidates include freshman Blake Bars, who redshirted this year, and possibly incoming freshman Kyle Bosch, who is enrolled early and will have a head start on strength training and learning the system. But true freshmen rarely play on the offensive line, regardless of when they enroll.
Outside of Schofield, the rest of the line, no matter who wins the positions, will combine for zero starts. Burzynski has the most experience, playing sparingly in seven games as a reserve.
The young guys have talent, according to their recruiting profiles. But offensive line, more than any position other than quarterback, is a developmental position and it takes time to refine talent into production.
Campbell, though, isn't worried.
"Them young offensive linemen and big defensive linemen came in big, strong, explosive," he said. "They're athletic guys. I just can't wait to watch them play football."
It's not a matter of if young guys will play football next year, but which.
And how they play will dictate whether Michigan can improve upon this year's 8-5 finish.
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