UM mailbag: O-line issues, QB chatter and more

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

The season is over and for Michigan fans, while the Wolverines finished with a largely unsatisfying 8-4 record, the rational take is that this was a team of significant youth and two quarterbacks went to the hospital, but the also-rational take is that this was an offensive line that was an issue for much of the season and the team couldn’t get over a couple humps – beating Michigan State for a second straight year and winning a meaningful road game against a ranked team.

With all that in mind, let’s dive into the Michigan football mailbag.

Question: Your thoughts on the offense overall? I’m personally optimistic about Peters, Peoples-Jones and return of Black. What do you believe will be a priority to “fix” before kickoff 2018? — @MarkProff

Answer: You’re right – there are a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about the offense when you think about Tarik Black, the team’s leading receiver before he broke his foot, coming back, tight end Nick Eubanks being fully healthy, Donovan Peoples-Jones getting significant playing time particularly later in the season and how much he can build on that in bowl practices. Then there are Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, and still want to see more of Kareem Walker. The quarterbacks are young, but Brandon Peters started to show he’s a guy who can run the offense, and he and Dylan McCaffrey will only get better competing against each other. But the priority is and has been the offensive line. For too many games it was an issue and for too many games it let the quarterbacks get clobbered. Mason Cole leaves with what will be 51 consecutive starts and he will be tough to replace, and center Patrick Kugler has exhausted his eligibility. Ben Bredeson will be a junior and the leader of the offensive line, but spring practice – even bowl practices – will be about identifying what the line will look like in 2018.

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Q. Any insight as to where McCaffrey is in his development? I assume Peters is most likely to start Notre Dame game next season, but is there a chance it’s McCaffrey? — @Stick_Man_Says

A. Pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton said before the Ohio State game that the staff wants to go into the bowl game and offseason with an “established” quarterback. Reading the tea leaves, it seems that would be Brandon Peters. He made three regular-season starts and was looking poised and coming into his own running the offense at Wisconsin before he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. He will start the bowl game and have four starts over McCaffrey. Still, defensive coordinator Don Brown could not stop raving about McCaffrey as the scout team quarterback and said he has that “it” factor. And Hamilton spoke about his “NFL pedigree” because of his father, Ed. It’s going to be a good competition between the two in spring, but at the moment, it seems the advantage tips toward Peters.

Q. Would adding a QB graduate transfer just create more of a problem with the QB situation? — @sampez18

A. That’s a great question because Jim Harbaugh has shown he’s not averse to going the grad-transfer route, and that goes for other positions, as well. To me a grad-transfer quarterback would be a mistake. Those guys transfer with the desire to start right away. With Peters and McCaffrey, and Joe Milton, who will be an early enrollee freshman, in and competing this spring – all Harbaugh recruits – it would send the wrong message to bring in a grad transfer. I understand it’s smart to stockpile quarterbacks, but grad transfers don’t transfer to sit on the bench. Just ask Jake Rudock and even Shane Morris after he left Michigan for Central Michigan. They want to play right away. It could defeat the psyches of young quarterbacks.

Q. Are you worried about the offensive line for next year? It felt like QB issues were partially caused by subpar pass protection? — @akim1026

Q. Thoughts on progression of this year’s offensive line and who may start for the O-line next year? — @bakingmom14

A. The questions are related, so let’s tackle them this way. Offensive line is always the position group I look at first because I firmly believe that a great offensive line can make a marginal quarterback look good and a marginal running back even better – not suggesting Michigan is marginal at either of those positions but trying to say a really good offensive line can have that effect on any team. A lot of the quarterback issues were directly related to the offensive line play, and that’s not getting into the fact two quarterbacks wound up making hospital visits. Cesar Ruiz developed, Michele, and although he showed some freshman moments, all in all, he looked good filling in at right guard when Mike Onwenu was hurt. Presumably Ben Bredeson will start for a third straight season at left guard, and Ruiz should move to center and Onwenu at right guard. Nolan Ulizio started the season at right tackle before losing the job, and he likely will compete with Stephen Spanellis for the job. It’s unclear what Grant Newsome’s status will be, so Chuck Filiaga and Andrew Steuber should compete at left tackle.

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Q. Every game this year the defense came out big then weakened. Why not rotate more? Lack of depth, or is that a Brown choice to roll same guys out? — @GergOgre

A. Defensive line coach Greg Mattison liked the depth he had on the line and said late in the season it was getting to the point the second group was close to as good as the first. Not quite but close, so it doesn’t seem depth was an issue. They really don’t rotate the back seven, but you’re right – in big games in the second half they let up big plays. And credit the opposing quarterbacks. Time and again we saw Michigan make the hurry and get in their faces and they made players. I think back to Penn State and Trace McSorley throwing up the ball at times and his receivers made great plays.