Ann Arbor — Michigan offensive line coach Greg Frey is encouraged by the effort the linemen have been putting in this preseason camp, a carryover from a focused summer conditioning led by veterans Mason Cole and Patrick Kugler.
There are still plenty of questions marks on the line and no one is prepared to reveal a starting five — this has been made perfectly clear since the start of camp on July 31 — and Frey is just fine with that.
“The guys have been working hard, had a great summer,” Frey said Monday. “There’s a really good vibe. They’re fighting. It’s been a pleasure watching them grow, excel and learn and become a team.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last Friday shed some light on the offensive line competition, and there were no surprises.
“Mike Onwenu, (Jon) Runyan, (Juwann) Bushell-Beatty have all been in there rotating with the ones,” Harbaugh said. “(Ben) Bredeson has been a mainstay, (Mason) Cole is a mainstay. (Patrick) Kugler has had a nice camp. He’s giving us a lot of confidence there. They continue to pick up the enormous variety of blitzes we see from our own defense. It only makes us better, which you love. It’s not the normal practice sessions. There’s a lot of chaos. It will make us better.”
Harbaugh laughed and said the line hasn’t been able to block defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Frey loves that his line is developing by facing a defensive line that also includes Rashan Gary, Bryan Mone and Chase Winovich.
“You know the old saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron,’” Frey said. “When you’ve got guys coming in and you’re trying to prepare them to play, who you practice against plays a big part in that. While you can’t go every single snap every single day against Rashan or Mo, what does happen is it becomes competitive. And when it becomes competitive, it brings the level of play up for guys.”
Michigan’s season opens Sept. 2 against Florida in Arlington, Texas. Frey, who is coaching tackles and tight ends, while Tim Drevno handles the interior line, said competition is fierce and nothing is settled.
“Right now, the focus is on us,” he said. “It’s on developing each kid and correcting things. Everybody is doing really good things and everybody is doing some things you want to do better.
“At this point in camp, legs are tired, guys are fighting, so it’s a situation where you’re really trying to bring the stress level up and individually correct and develop. And as we get through camp, I think separation occurs and it goes from there. It’s a little too early to tell right now.”
Frey and senior Mason Cole go way back to Cole’s high school days. Both are native Floridians and from the same town, so Frey had some insight into the young lineman.
“You’ll have to confirm this, but I think I was his first offer,” Frey said. “I’ve had the privilege of watching Mason develop as a young man and as a person.”
From early on, Frey identified Cole for his athleticism and natural leadership ability.
“Mason was special in high school,” Frey said. “They had a great team down there, and he was definitely a leader on it. When you’d go and watch him practice, there was just something different about him. He had the ‘it’ factor.”
Cole has been a starter at Michigan since his freshman season when he started his first two seasons at left tackle and then last year at center. He likely will be back at left tackle this fall.
“If he helps us win there, then I love it,” Frey said. “If he helps us win at center, I’d love that too. It’s about whatever helps us score points. If you ask Mason, he’d play wide receiver if he thought it would help us win.”
Brian Smith, who coaches Michigan’s safeties, said with all the youth in the secondary it’s all about reps and getting better this fall. He’s not ready to say who the starters will be.
“That’s a few weeks in the future,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to get better from a standpoint of our assignments and getting guys lined up. We’ve got a lot of new guys in there and we’re focused on getting better.”
Smith said it remains unclear at the moment how deep a rotation he’d like, saying that depends on the opponent and number of receivers.
“A lot of times we’ll try to match what they’re doing,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to figure that out. Right now, 10, 11 practices in, however many it is, we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and figure it out. We’re still in an open competition and trying to see which guys can play and which guys can’t.”