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Competition fierce as UM restocks offensive line

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Rome — Michigan has to replace three starting spots on the offensive line and confidence was high among offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and players after the conclusion of spring practice in Rome that the new starting five will be an efficient group and there will be depth.

The Wolverines on Saturday ended their week-long educational visit to Rome that included multiple sightseeing opportunities and team-bonding activities, with three straight practices.

“We definitely over these 15 practices gelled more than I thought we would,” said fifth-year senior center Patrick Kugler. “It’s been very good for our offensive line. There’s a lot of talent on this offensive line. People probably underestimate the amount of talent that they brought in here. This five will be very good.”

From the looks of things, Mason Cole will shift back to left tackle where he started the first two years and then moved to center last year, Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu will be the guards, Jon Runyan or Juwann Bushell-Beatty will be at right tackle and Kugler at center.

“There’s a lot of competition still,” Kugler said. “I expect to start. Everyone should expect to start. There’s a lot of tight competition. It’s just about getting the best five out there. If you don’t think you’re one of the best five, then you really shouldn’t be here at the University of Michigan.”

But Drevno, who coaches the interior of the offensive line — Greg Frey is coaching tackles and tight ends — cautioned to hold off writing down anything in ink.

Michigan players, coaches had a blast in Rome

Early enrollee freshmen Cesar Ruiz and Ja’Raymond Hall have been in Ann Arbor since January and participated in winter conditioning and spring practice, and in the fall, Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford will arrive. Drevno is pleased with how Michigan recruited the position for this class.

“I don’t know yet,” Drevno said, when asked if he’s set on a starting five. “I want to see those other guys. We’re going to mix and match in there and put our best five out there. It’s a competition. You’ve got to love competition. You’ve got to keep it on edge like that. You don’t want to start feeling too good about yourself.

“We feel those three guys (freshmen) will come in and complement Ja’Raymond and Cesar. We went out saying, ‘Hey, we need to get more athletic guys, more fleet-footed guys, guys who bend well.’ We felt like we conquered that with this recruiting class. I can’t wait to get them here June 23 for our staff to start working with them.”

Drevno likes Ruiz’ potential.

“Cesar is going to be a special player here someday,” he said. “The way that he can snap the ball and get his hands on you and bring his feet and play with pad level. He really asks questions to you at the end of a play during a break. He’s got a football awareness. He’s got a videotape machine in his head that he can play back what just happened to him and ask you if you did it right. He can extend the question one more part to it that you’re about to get to and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty special.’ Really excited about Cesar.”

Onwenu, who played on both lines last fall as a freshman, has moved to offense exclusively. He weighs 372 pounds.

“I don’t know if I’m moving him.,” Kugler said, laughing, when asked if he’d want to face Onwenu. “I don’t know if I’d want to go one-on-one against him.”

Drevno said while there’s no goal weight, the staff would like to see Onwenu a bit lighter.

“We’ll see through the summer,” Drevno said. “Mike’s a big man, but he moves really well. But you’d like his weight to drop a little bit more so he could be more fleet-footed and sustain through drives. I don’t want to put a marker on it. Everybody’s body is different.”

Michigan’s offensive line has seen improvement the last two years under Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff, but Drevno knows expectations are high to see a stronger, more sustained run game. And that, of course, requires a cohesive, efficient offensive line.

“I felt like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this thing right,’ ” Drevno said after the last practice last Saturday. “You get the little knot in your stomach. We’re in a result-oriented business and you get a chip on your shoulder. I do feel we’re farther along. That goes back to the winter workouts we had and the leadership of coach Harbaugh. They’ve done a good job of embracing it.

“I feel like we’re more athletic. I think we move better. We have better initial quickness. We can stay on a block. We may be getting knocked off, and we can recover to get back on the block. We’ve done a good job here. Our recruiting class is bringing some guys in. It’s a bright future. It’s really pleasing.”

Drevno raved about the trip to Rome and the time it afforded him to get to know his players.

“Taking a trip over here, this is a life-changer,” he said. “I sit down with somebody different at a table, you break bread and you laugh. You get more love for them. This really has been a blessing over here to get to know our personnel as people and players and what motivates them.”

And the offensive lined ended spring practice on a high note.

“This was a good day, and we’ve done a good job, but we’re not there yet,” Drevno said. “We’ve got a good plan ahead and we think great things are going to happen.”