Ann Arbor — With just more than week until Michigan’s season opener, the offensive line is finally taking shape.
But how the running back situation is going to look is not yet decided, as sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are neck-and-neck for the start. Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes are competing as the third-down back.
Offensive line is the big question mark heading into the season, though, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke said the starters are almost set. Ben Braden will be the starter at right tackle and true freshman Mason Cole, an early enrollee who participated in spring practice, has been “very, very steady” at left tackle, Hoke said Wednesday.
Jack Miller, the starter at center the first four games last season before Graham Glasgow moved into the job, will be the starter on Aug. 30 against Appalachian State. Glasgow is sitting out the first game for disciplinary reasons, and where he fits in after that is unclear — he could return at center but also has been working at guard.
Erik Magnuson, long thought to be projected at left tackle, is expected to start at left guard.
The position still up for grabs is right guard. Kyle Kalis, who has been out with a back injury, returned to practice Tuesday. He is has been competing with Joey Burzynski and Kyle Bosch for that job.
“We have an idea, but I don’t think we’re set at right guard,” Hoke said.
Hoke praised Miller, who will be backed up by Patrick Kugler, for having a consistent camp. Cole made an impact during the spring and didn’t let up during camp. It’s what you don’t see, Hoke said, that makes him so good.
“You don’t notice him, so you don’t notice any mistakes,” Hoke said. “He’s not been a guy who’s killed plays.”
During last Saturday’s open scrimmage, the line was dominated by the more veteran defense, and the running game looked sluggish. Hoke said the line can make big improvements from then until the opener.
“We’re going to continue to put a lot of pressure on them, and a lot of stress on them,” Hoke said. “So far defensively, and it’s usually that way, because of the experience we have on defense with older guys and the leadership, the defense has been ahead.
“(Defensive coordinator) Greg (Mattison) doesn’t make it easy for them. They’re not just sitting there in a 4-3. There are linebackers coming from all over the place, and that can slow you down a little bit. Watching them communicate with each other, there’s a significant improvement.”
As far as the running backs, Hoke has mentioned all of them throughout camp as potential starters. But it appears Green and Smith are challenging for the start.
“When you look at our backs, all of them have done a nice job,” Hoke said. “I think they’re improving, they’re getting better. In third-down situations Drake and Justice have done a nice job. I think Derrick and De’Veon, from getting downhill, both of them we have to keep improving with.”
Patient with Peppers
Hoke said the plan for freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers remains unchanged.
“We’re going to really try and make sure he’s set at the nickel before we get to out there being a boundary corner,” Hoke said. “He’s learned fast. From a fundamental and technique standpoint he’s come a long way. Just think he’s done a nice job overall.”
Peppers played at times at corner last Saturday with the first team.