Ann Arbor — Michigan offensive line coaches Tim Drevno and Greg Frey are not at the point they need to name a starting five, and with that in mind they are taking their time to play everyone everywhere during spring practices.
Frey joined the staff this year from Indiana and is coaching tackles and tight ends, while Drevno, also the offensive coordinator, is coaching the interior.
Three starters are gone from the offensive line and awaiting the NFL Draft. Mason Cole, entering his final season, played left tackle his first two years and center last year, and Ben Bredeson, who will be a sophomore, started at left guard last year, are the two returning starters.
“Seeing who goes where as we go as an offense,” Frey said Wednesday after the team’s third spring practice. “As we get through the summer, we’ll figure out that first play of the (season-opening) Florida game who the starters are.”
Bredeson said even he has snapped a bit in practice, as the linemen have moved around playing all the spots.
“The more versatility you have, the better,” Bredeson said after practice. “Everybody is always moving around on the line, playing inside, outside. Everybody is moving around, trying to get as versatile as possible so that if injuries did occur you could plug somebody in and keep the best five guys on the field.”
Michigan lost starting left tackle Grant Newsome to injury last season and adjustments had to be made.
“Adversity is going to hit,” Frey said. “It’s a physical game, so injuries are going to happen, so you’ve got to be ready. You’re never going to start with five guys on the offensive line and one tight end and play the whole year — 1,000 snaps in the Big Ten is hard. So you’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to have multiple guys ready.
“What you’re trying to do in spring ball is lay the foundation, the fundamentals, the toughness, the competitiveness. You’re seeing how the winter workouts help them get quicker, stronger and faster, and you re-evaluate at the end of spring. You start a summer plan and then you re-evaluate after two-a-days and you start a season plan, so you’re always planning on how you’re building that group, how you’re building the five O linemen. It’s a constant evolving plan.”
Early enrollee freshmen Cesar Ruiz, the nation’s No. 1 center out of high school, and Ja’Raymond Hall were here early going through winter conditioning, getting acclimated to the academic side and are now participating in spring ball.
The general thinking used to be that it was almost assumed offensive linemen redshirted as freshmen. Frey puts no limitations regardless of age.
“My vote is the best players play,” he said. “Whoever is going to help us win, I’m all for putting them on the field.”
Frey was an offensive lineman at Florida State and has always coached the position. He has added coaching tight ends to his resume this year and Jay Harbaugh, who coached tight ends the last two seasons, has moved to handling the running backs.
He does not see coaching tight ends as a huge leap from coaching tackles.
“The ability to make a defender uncomfortable, whether it’s releasing on a route or blocking, is the key,” Frey said. “That doesn’t matter what position you play, whether it’s running back, tight end, wide receiver, offensive tackle. I’ve been 20-some-odd years in football and a slant route is a slant route, a go route’s a go route.”
Drevno last week said adding Frey to the staff has freed him up a bit to focus more on coordinating the offense. He said he likes Frey’s style of coaching.
“He’s very demanding,” Drevno said. “If it’s not right, he’ll make you keep doing it until you fix it. He tells you the reasons why you have to fix it, why you’re doing it.”
Bredeson likes Frey’s approach, as well.
“He brings a lot of fire. Heck of a coach,” Bredeson said. “I’ve only worked with him for a couple months and he definitely knows what he’s talking about. He can fire you up real quick. Great guy, great coach. He’s working mainly with tackles and tight ends but he was an O lineman, too, so he knows what needs to happen, so he’ll chip in and help out with us and give us some tips on what he did that was successful. Definitely helps a lot to have him around.”
The linemen like the idea of having two sets of eyes and opinions, as Cole said last week, in practices.
“We’ve got two coaches that are highest level,” Bredeson said. “They know what they’re doing. Being able to have more minds working on the problem is definitely beneficial for us.
“You get two different perspectives and you can work through things. I feel like our answers to defensive fronts are going to be very very strong, because we have two minds working on it now. Coach Drevno does a great job, but the addition of coach Frey, it can only go up.”