Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Angelique S. Chengelis talk about UM's trip to Paris, QB Shea Patterson, and local players taken in the NFL draft or signed as free agents.
Simpler is better. At least that’s what Michigan’s offensive linemen have taken from working with their new position coach, Ed Warinner.
It is complicated enough to play offensive line, but Warinner, in his first year with the Wolverines, spent the spring easing the players through a playbook that was less overwhelming and more efficient in the sense that everyone could pick things up quickly.
By no means is the group a finished product, but the linemen say their understanding of the playbook is better now than it was last fall. Warinner replaced Tim Drevno, now on staff at USC.
“It’s really amazing,” lineman Stephen Spanellis said during the team’s trip to Paris this past week. “Coach Warinner’s philosophy, he tells us that he doesn’t to start calculus before everybody can pass Algebra 1. I felt like before we would go straight to rocket science and try to cover everything possible in every meeting. And some guys can’t keep up and it doesn’t have value for a guy to sit in a meeting and they have no idea what’s going on fundamentally with normal plays like inside zone or power.
“So why not slow it down and learn all the basics before you progress? What makes it hard is our defense is so complex, that they break a lot of rules and you have to advance a little bit. But fundamentally, slowing it down a little bit has a lot of value especially for the younger guys who are still learning the offense. For example, James Hudson coming over from defense, it takes a long time to learn the offense in general. Why leave a guy like that at a disadvantage by making it too complicated?”
While so much of the discussion this spring concerned quarterback transfer Shea Patterson and whether he would be eligible this fall, one of the most important storylines heading into the upcoming season is the offensive line and whether it can make substantial improvement from last year.
Early in spring practice, Ben Bredeson, who will be a third-year starting left guard, said with Warinner now on staff, it felt as though the reset button had been pressed. Bredeson said the linemen have a swagger that wasn’t there last season. Michigan was ranked 110th nationally in sacks allowed and 91st in tackles for loss allowed.
“There was a significance difference this spring than there was last fall just in our technique and aggression and attitude,” Bredeson said. “We’ve obviously got things we need to clean and there’s always room for improvement, but it’s been leaps and bounds from last year.
“It was taught in a different way that is much more beneficial for learning for the younger guys. I think we broke the playbook down and then built it back up instead of putting it right on. I just thought it was a much more efficient tactic, because I think guys grasped — before, it was kinda remembering what calls went with what instead of understanding concepts. We broke the concepts down this spring.”
Preseason camp will solidify the starting five, but for now it appears Cesar Ruiz will be at center, with Bredeson on his left and Michael Onwenu to his right, and Jon Runyan and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at the tackles.
Ruiz, the No. 1 center coming in the 2017 class, will be a sophomore this fall.
“I love Cesar at center,” Bredeson said. “He makes call and he’s assertive with it. There were times in spring we weren’t right and calls weren’t right, but as long as everyone is on the same page, something good probably is going to come from it. He’s assertive with it and from a blocking scheme, he’s a strong kid. He and I work well together.”
There is depth on the line but also youth, and the younger players have benefitted from the simple-is-better approach.
“As an O-line, especially if you get older, you find ways to simplify it, but then you’ve got to pass that along to the younger guys and I think coach Warinner saw that,” Bredeson said. “We didn’t shrink the playbook at all, but we just simplified it and put it in terms that were quicker to learn. Just a new teaching style and thought the young guys picked up on real quick. Just from last year, there’s been a lot of improvement mentally, as well.”
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Tackle Grant Newsome, who was not cleared to practice this spring but remains confident he will return from the gruesome knee injury he suffered during the 2016 season, has observed that Warinner’s approach has accelerated the learning of the younger linemen.
“Coach Warinner came in the first meeting we had, he said if we wanted to simplify things, great,” Newsome said. “He was confused even by the amount of terminology and different plays we had in the playbook. We’ve made an emphasis this spring to simplify things. It’s really going to be helpful still having a pretty young offense especially.”
Defensive end Chase Winovich saw the offensive line make improvements during the spring.
“The defensive line is still beating them, don’t get me wrong, but I think the stuff they do — this is my opinion so take it with a grain of salt — it just seems like the stuff they do is making more sense,” Winovich said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any many just blatant, I’m just running free getting sacks. I’m still getting them, but I gotta work for them. It’s not like they’re handing them to me, and that’s exciting. I’ll stop there.
“There’s definitely some talent. The kids are still young. And sometimes it’s easy to see the transformation that people can make. They’ll be ok. They’ll be good.”
As a group, the offensive line has been the most maligned at Michigan the last several years. Spanellis is certain the new group will be improved.
“I think any way you slice it we’re going to have to be a better offensive line this year than we were last year, and we know that,” Spanellis said. “I think we’re well on the way to doing that.”