Offensive line is Michigan's 'most improved position group'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Mason Cole

Ann Arbor — Sometimes, the best judges of how an offensive line is progressing are the defensive linemen they face every day in practice.

Determining Michigan’s starting five offensive linemen remains a work in progress, and if anyone knows for sure how it will shape up, including veteran starter Mason Cole who likely will start at left tackle, there’s a lot of “I-know-nothing” going around.

But Michigan senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst wasn’t afraid this week to give the position group a massive pat on the back.

“The O-line has been the most improved position group so far for us,” Hurst said this week. “They’re really developing depth with some of the younger guys that just got in.”

Three starters from last year’s line are gone. Cole, a center last season, likely will move back to left tackle, where he played his first two seasons. Ben Bredeson started at left guard last season. The other three spots have yet to be settled.

From Hurst’s vantage point, the improved play stems from a better understanding of the offense coordinated by Tim Drevno, who is entering his third season as Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator. Drevno also coaches the offensive line and will handle the interior this fall while new staff addition Greg Frey is coaching the tackles and tight ends.

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“I think they’re just starting to grasp the offense and being in the same system for a year and kinda just understanding what the coaches expect and sort of understanding what their assignments are and being with the same O-line coach for a couple years now has really helped them,” Hurst said.

“It’s done the same thing for us being with coach (defensive coordinator Don) Brown for a couple years. I think that’s the most important because since I’ve been here we sort of rotated through our defensive and offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches, so having that steadiness has helped us a lot.”

Cole said he has been trying to lead the young players going through their first college camp. Cesar Ruiz was here in the spring along with JaRaymond Hall, but the newcomers are Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford.

“Any way you can help these freshmen, they’re going through their first camp now, (and) it’s not all that fun as a freshman,” Cole said. “Just helping them get through it mentally. If I can help them have the right attitude and stay positive through this — they’ve never been through anything like this before. So just helping them along the way.”

From his experience, Cole said every freshmen goes through some uncertain times while making the transition to college. He said it’s not homesickness but more the overwhelming nature of so much football.

“It’s the first time in your life you’re doing football stuff from 7 in the morning to 10 at night, so it’s just new,” Cole said. When I was a freshman I had great leaders to help me get through it.”

Cole won’t say where he expects to play this fall, and Drevno also stayed mum on the topic last week. He has the type of versatility that allows him to play anywhere on the line.

The standard response for Cole is he’s playing a “little bit of everything” in practice.

“It’s not as tough as people think,” he said. “If you can grasp the game mentally and know what each guy is supposed to do all the time, moving positions is not that hard. If you know what someone’s technique is supposed to be, you can do it. If you study your playbook, anyone can do it.”

He said he has no preference where he plays this fall.

“Wherever is going to help this team win,” Cole said.