Ann Arbor — Chuck Filiaga was new to the Michigan offensive line last fall, but the comments about his position group got old. Fast.
Filiaga, who helped lead Aledo High to a Texas state championship in 2016, redshirted last fall and expects to make a push for playing time this season at tackle or guard. He just won't share his likely landing spot.
“Surprise, surprise for everybody,” Filiaga said recently, smiling while being coy. “It’s fun to mess with people a little bit.”
But don’t mess with his teammates on the offensive line, who have faced the brunt of criticism the last several years because of Michigan’s lackluster offensive showing. While the offensive line wasn’t the only reason for the lack of production last year, it did have its share of issues. The Wolverines ranked 110th nationally in sacks allowed and 91st in tackles for loss allowed.
While Michigan fans may be fed up with the offense being a weak link, considering the top-notch defense that has been played the last few seasons, no one seems more motivated as the season approaches than the offensive linemen.
“With everybody coming out and blaming the O-line last year, this year we’re just tired of all that nonsense talk blaming it on one group of people,” Filiaga said. “It’s a team effort and right now, this year, our offensive line is pissed off. We’re tired of people blaming us. So we’re going to come out and smack people in the mouth.”
This has been a consistent theme and message among the lineman this year, especially since Ed Warinner has taken over coaching the group. He has had considerable success, most notably at Ohio State, and has been widely praised this spring by the Michigan players for simplifying things.
“It’s on our mind 24/7,” Filiaga said. “We make sure to remind each other every day that this year we’re not going to be like us last year. This year we’re going to be different. We’re going to have that grit mentality.
“There’s always good and bad, but this year we’re more focused. Tunnel vision.”
While defensive end Rashan Gary said the defensive line is very publicly focused on being considered the best defensive line in the country, Filiaga said the Michigan offensive linemen also have a rallying cry for the upcoming season.
He wouldn’t share what that might be, though.
“It will come out," Filiaga said, smiling.
Michigan players across the board have praised new strength coach Ben Herbert and said they’ve all gained bulk without sacrificing speed. Filiaga was listed at 6-foot-6, 345 pounds on last year’s roster and he said he’s 340 now.
“I’m at a good weight right now,” he said. “I like where I’m at. We’ve all gotten a lot stronger this year.”
Sophomore Cesar Ruiz is set to start at center, with Ben Bredeson, who will be starting his third season at left guard, and Michael Onwenu starting for his second season at right guard. Coming out of spring it appears Jon Runyan Jr. and Juwann Bushell-Beatty will take over at the tackles.
But Filiaga said there is a lot to like about the young talent on the offensive line. James Hudson has earned considerable praise, and Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford are players to watch, as are Stephen Spanellis and Andrew Vastardis.
Filiaga said the line showed improved play against Michigan’s tough defensive line during the spring and said they did win some of those matchups on a more consistent basis.
“That grittiness within us and that dog mentality we’ve been having, we’ve been getting after the D-line, and the D-line gets after us,” he said. “They’ll have their days, we have our days. It goes back and forth.”
Camp begins in early August in preparation for the season that kicks off Sept. 1 at Notre Dame. Filiaga said the team is “craving” to put on the pads again and start hitting with that “dog mentality.”
“Paws in the ground, hands in the dirt,” he said. “And we’re going to go full speed.”