Position changes loom for Michigan's offensive line
But Michigan's offensive line faces uncertainty in the interior, and position changes appear to be on the horizon.
"I think there has to be," offensive line coach Darrell Funk said recently. "The thing I tell the kids all the time: The best five will play.
"That means if I have to have five tackles start, and train one of them to snap the ball, I don't care. The best five will play."
Michigan returns Lewan and fellow senior Michael Schofield at the tackles, but loses left guard Ricky Barnum, center Elliott Mealer and right guard Patrick Omameh. None of their replacements gained much meaningful experience last year, and most are underclassmen anyway, so the Wolverines basically are starting over in the middle.
Funk was tight-lipped about any looming changes, and refused to name leaders for those positions, but acknowledged sophomore Jack Miller will get a long look at center.
The only possible move mentioned by Funk involved junior Joey Burzynski, a reserve guard who will compete with Miller at center. Sophomore walk-on Graham Glasgow and true freshman Patrick Kugler could also receive looks.
"That'll be a really interesting battle," Funk said. "I would prefer not to have another center battle for the second consecutive year, but it is what it is and we've got some candidates. They've all repped it for a year and a half, or two years, and we'll see who the best guy is."
Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis has received rave reviews since stepping on campus as a five-star prospect last year and is considered a leader to start at guard in 2013. Other candidates for guard include sophomore Chris Bryant, redshirt frehmen Blake Bars and Burzynski.
No matter who wins those three interior jobs, they will combine for zero starts in their careers. Burzynski is the most experienced of the bunch, and he played in just seven games last year, mostly in mop-up duty.
That accentuates the importance of Lewan's return. The fourth-year starter and reigning All-American left tackle shunned the NFL to return to school this offseason.
Lewan's decision has several ramifications. Not only will the Wolverines have the luxury of protecting quarterback Devin Gardner's blind side with one of the best linemen in the country, it gives the youthful line more leadership as it segues into the future.
It also allows them to continue to develop their promising redshirt freshmen tackles, Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden, without forcing one into the starting lineup. That likely would have been the case had Lewan left.
"Forget the talent for a second that he has, and that he's a proven player, and the leadership you get from him, and the game experience -- all those things -- but you have a starter there, and a starter on the other side, and you can just build the inside guys, as opposed to Mike moving or whatever," Funk said.
"Having those two guys there, and just having to build the inside with some real talented guys, I think we're right where we want to be."
Funk didn't rule out a possible move inside for one of those tackles, especially Braden. He said beyond Lewan and Schofield starting at the tackles, everything remains possible.
And that's not such a bad thing.
"I've had 19 or 20 guys who have had the NFL opportunity," Funk said, "and almost all those guys started at a position other than they ended up being in."
-- Download the Michigan football on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Download the Michigan basketball on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Follow Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner on Twitter
-- Like MLive's Michigan Wolverines Facebook page