Michigan offensive lineman Mason Cole said he's leading the younger players by example.
Ann Arbor – Michigan’s offensive lineman are taking classes together this summer.
They’re not for school credit, though. It's essentially football extra credit.
“We have ‘offensive line school’ that we do,” fifth-year senior lineman Patrick Kugler said last weekend during a break in Michigan's youth camps. “We watch film, we’ll go through plays, go through blitz cards, watch Florida film since they’re the first game.”
During summer workouts, strength coach Kevin Tolbert has the offensive and defensive linemen working together.
“Which is very good for us, because it gives us another time to compete, so I’m working out with (offensive lineman) Mason (Cole) every day instead of a receiver that maybe we’re not the same strength. So it just gives us another opportunity to compete against each other.”
Cole said the competition, offensive line versus defensive line, is another step toward making a young group on both sides ready for the upcoming season.
“It’s so competitive,” Cole said. “We push sleds, we run gassers. It’s all competitive – who can run the fastest and who can push the sled the furthest, so everything we’re doing this summer is competitive. And since we’re competing with the D-line, it makes it that much better.”
Cole played his first two seasons at left tackle before moving to center last year. He appears to be moving back to left tackle to make room for Kugler or freshman Cesar Ruiz at center.
“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Cole said. “There’s so much that could happen in camp, that can change from now until September, so we’ll see.”
Three starters – Ben Braden, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Kalis – are gone from last year’s team, and left tackle Grant Newsome’s knee injury suffered early last season will keep him out until 2018. Only Cole and left guard Ben Bredeson, who will be a sophomore this fall, are returning.
But aside from the freshmen, there are several younger players who have been in the program who will factor into the competition. Michael Onwenu, who will be a sophomore, is projected to be a starting guard, while Jon Runyan, Stephen Spanellis and Andrew Vastardis also could see playing time.
That means plenty of competition and plenty of inexperience, but no one seems overly concerned.
“I think we’ve got a lot of talent,” Kugler said. “We’re very young, but we’re very athletic. Inexperienced, for sure, but the main word is we’ve got a lot of talent. I know coach (Tim) Drevno will get us all working cohesively and just finding the best five, making that talent work.”
Kugler hasn’t played much but he’s been in the program and can play guard or center.
“Game-wise, maybe (he’s inexperienced), but he’s got the mindset and the football knowledge to play like a veteran right away,” Cole said of Kugler.
With Kugler, the offensive line would have that boost of veteran knowledge.
“I feel comfortable at center. I played guard last year, I feel comfortable there,” Kugler said. “You could throw me at tackle, I probably wouldn’t look too good. It’s just about finding the right five. If Cesar is at center, it’s Cesar at center. If it’s Mason at center, it’s Mason at center. It’s just about finding the best five and however they can put that together.”
Ruiz, ranked the nation’s No. 1 center in the 2018 class from IMG Academy, enrolled early and was able to practice during the spring, as did JaRaymond Hall from Oak Park. Freshmen Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Steuber and Joel Honigford are now on campus going through summer conditioning and will compete this fall for playing time.
“The young guys, not just the offensive line but across the board for our team, they’re just so incredibly naturally gifted athletes,” Cole said. “I think that’s a credit to coach (Jim) Harbaugh for recruiting athletes. I think it’s starting to show.”