Ann Arbor – Mason Cole started his first two seasons at left tackle and his junior year at center. Now, in his final spring practice before his senior season, he’s practicing “all over.”
Cole and Ben Bredeson, a freshman last fall who started at left guard, are the only returning linemen with significant experience. Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson are all awaiting the upcoming NFL Draft.
“At this point it’s about the best five and having the most productive offensive line,” Cole said after the first spring practice last Friday. “Wherever I play, that’s all good as long as we’re good like that. We’re just trying to find the best five and wherever the pieces of the puzzle fit.”
Before Michigan's bowl game last December, Cole said he felt comfortable playing center and was enjoying that role. But Cesar Ruiz, the nation’s top-ranked center out of Florida's IMG Academy, is an early enrollee freshman and already has impressed Cole and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who coaches the interior line.
“I like the way he moves,” Drevno said of Ruiz. “He has really good initial quickness. When he snaps the ball, he can get to the second level. Runs well. Really a good student of the game and understands and can process quickly.”
Cole said Ruiz is “football intelligent,” athletic and could play any position on the line.
Big things are expected from 380-pound Michael Onwenu, a guard who saw some playing time last fall on the offensive and defensive lines, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty is a veteran who likely is in the mix at tackle. He made one start at left tackle before Braden moved into that spot. Jon Runyan Jr., Nolan Ulizio and Stephen Spanellis also are pieces of the puzzle who will get their shots in spring practice, along with early enrollee freshman JaRaymond Hall.
“You see with Ben his maturity. He understands things and understands how we want the technique,” Drevno said of Bredeson. “Michael (is) the same way. This spring is going to help him. You see a difference in maturity level.”
Grant Newsome’s status remains an unknown. Newsome suffered a gruesome right knee injury last fall that required a 38-day hospital stay.
“(Newsome is) still working through some things,” Drevno said. “Hope to have him back soon.”
Drevno has had to juggle coordinating the offense and coaching the offensive line the last two years. Now he will share some of the offensive line coaching with Greg Frey, who coached Michigan’s offensive line for three seasons when Rich Rodriguez was coach and was hired from Indiana earlier this year.
Frey will handle the tackles and tight ends.
“It’s really good,” Cole said of having a second offensive line coach. “It’s really another set of eyes watching over the whole thing. It’s good to have two different voices and opinions and two great coaches working together to help out.”
Drevno, who also is working with new pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton, said adding Frey is an advantage.
“It really frees me up to really oversee the offense,” Drevno said. “Coaching five guys can be a lot. And now with Coach Frey helping out with the offensive line, in the game plan, play calling, overseeing it all, it’s going to be very, very helpful having Greg Frey.”