Detroit – The view from the other side is that Michigan’s offensive line has gotten stronger, and the other pieces – quarterback, receivers and running backs – are all in place.
But how much better is the offensive line under Ed Warinner – whose resume from his days at Ohio State has dazzled the Michigan players – now in his first year with the Wolverines?
He inherited a group of players who throughout spring practice said they felt overwhelmed by too much thrown at them the past few seasons under Tim Drevno, formerly the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Warinner’s approach has been simple, as in, he has simplified everything for the offensive line.
“They’re just a lot tougher,” SAM linebacker Josh Uche said Sunday at former Wolverine Jourdan Lewis’ camp at PAL Headquarters in Detroit. “The O-line is vastly improved.”
It has to be better than last year. Michigan ranked 110th nationally in sacks allowed and 91st in tackles for loss allowed.
While a starting five for the fall is not in ink, sophomore Cesar Ruiz is the likely starter at center, junior Ben Bredeson will be at left guard and junior Michael Onwenu will be at right guard. Jon Runyan Jr. appears to have locked down right tackle and Juwann Bushell-Beatty left tackle. Stephen Spanellis could factor in, as well, when preseason camp begins.
Warinner has had coaching stops at Michigan rivals Notre Dame and Michigan State, but it is his more recent work at Ohio State that turned the heads of the Wolverines.
Before spending last season at Minnesota, Warinner coached five years at Ohio State (2012-16), including the first three as offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator. He was elevated to coordinator in 2015. Most notable is his starting five in the 2013 Big Ten championship game went on to start Day 1 as rookies in the NFL.
“Coach Warinner, as running backs, we look at him as like a god because of the national championship and all the stuff we heard he did,” Michigan running back Chris Evans said. “Just the way he carries himself. He’s simplifying everything for like James Hudson, who just played D-tackle (and has switched to offensive tackle). He’s simplifying everything because coach Drevno, for James, it was too much, too many parts. But James is locked in and ready to go.”
Evans said Warinner also has helped the running backs with pass protection, which has been an area of concern for the Wolverines. By simplifying the work for the offensive linemen, the running backs also have benefitted.
“It’s not that we’re not blocking as much – we’ve simplified,” Evans said. “With coach Drevno being gone, a lot of O-lineman couldn’t catch on to the stuff they were doing, so it’s a lot more simplified. It’s easy for the running backs too, because we know what they’re doing because it’s so simple.”
While Uche praised the improvement of the offensive line, he also reminded that Michigan’s defense under coordinator Don Brown, who led the Wolverines to the top ranking in the country in 2016 and No. 3 nationally in 2017, hasn’t slipped.
“I love pass rushing,” Uche said. “I think that’s one of my strong suits and going against (the offensive linemen) now since (Warinner’s) got there has been a lot more difficult. He’s doing a great job. He’s motivating those guys, and those guys are in the weight room every other day getting extra work.”
But Uche still has the edge in pass rushing, right?
“Look at the stats,” Uche said, laughing. It was pointed out the spring stats aren’t made public. “I can’t give it away.”
Uche was still laughing, but when talking about the offense getting better, he shared the praise.
He is particularly pleased with the quarterback situation now that Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson has been added to the competition and is cleared to play this fall. Brandon Peters, a starter late last season, Dylan McCaffrey and early-enrollee Joe Milton are also challenging for the starting job.
“Our quarterback situation, all of those guys, they can play right now,” Uche said. “Joe Milton (can) drop his shoulder on somebody in practice; Shea Patterson is a monster; BP, that’s my guy, he’s got a canon on him; McCaffrey is a beast and he’s really fast.
“All those guys are monsters, but Shea has that edge to him a little bit. Competitiveness – all those guys do. I’m just going off what I see and going against them. (Patterson’s) going to extend the play and things like that.”
Uche is a pass rusher, so was he able to contain Patterson during spring practice?
“He extends the play, I’m not going to lie,” Uche said. “He’s pretty elusive.”
Overall, Evans believes the offense will be better this fall because the players have experience.
“We’ve got the same guys going in and we’re going to run it like that,” Evans said. “We trust in each other and the O-line is coming together, the offense is coming together, and the quarterbacks are doing their thing. Running backs, receivers, everybody is doing their thing.
“You know the defense is going to do their thing. All we’ve got to do is help them out a little bit. That’s the mentality we’re going in with.”