Cesar Ruiz handles ‘heavy burden’ of Michigan center job with ease

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Cesar Ruiz (51) and Shea Patterson

Ann Arbor – Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz has said he was born to play center.

And after five starts last season at guard as a freshman, Ruiz is anchoring the Wolverines’ offensive line and has so far received high marks from first-year Michigan line coach Ed Warinner.

Ruiz is affable and chatty but dead serious about playing the position. When asked Monday why he’s a good fit at center, the 6-foot-4, 319-pounder could have just relied on a look that said it all. But he decided to answer.

“I’m a real vocal guy. I’m quick with making decisions. I’m really confident,” said Ruiz, the nation’s top-rated center coming out of IMG Academy before enrolling early at UM in 2017. “I feel like that makes me a good center.”

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Ruiz is usually smiling when he’s not in game mode.

“Personality-wise, he’s a well-liked guy,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Very smart player. Players gravitate to him. Coaches like him. He’s got a lot of energy. Good to be around.”

When told Harbaugh’s comments, Ruiz adopted a gee-whiz-thanks-coach demeanor.

“I am a happy guy,” Ruiz said. “What can you be mad about? I’m happy to be here. I’m always a happy guy.”

Warinner arrived at Michigan with quite a resume developing offensive linemen who have gone on to NFL careers. He has been high on Ruiz since the spring.

He said the young center has been able to handle all that he has asked. Warinner said Ruiz often comes into the football building between classes so they can go over plays for the upcoming game so he knows what to do pre-snap to get the other four lineman in sync. Ruiz also studies in his free time.

“We put a heavy burden on him to make a lot of communication calls,” Warinner said. “Now, some of the other things that go on are just echoing those out to each other and sharing the knowledge. He comes in on his own, he says, ‘Coach, can we meet and go over something for 30 minutes?’ Boom. Know what I mean? That’s the kinda kid he is, but it’s critical. What he does up there is be the quarterback of that group.”

Because Ruiz has always played center, he understands the demands. He said there’s not too much to juggle, certainly not more than he can handle.

“To some people it could be a lot,” he said. “To me it’s not really a lot on my plate. I’m prepared for it. There are a lot of things that come with it. In terms of having a lot on my plate, it’s not really a lot. Just study the playbook and study film.”

Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner on Cesar Ruiz: “We put a heavy burden on him to make a lot of communication calls.”

He also has received advice and insight from graduate assistant Patrick Kugler, who was Michigan’s starting center last year.

“Talk to him a lot – a lot, a lot,” Ruiz said. “He really just watches me every day, every play I run in practice, everything I do in a game, he critiques it. He just makes sure I’m improving. He’s never lenient on what I do. If there’s something wrong on a play that’s really not that noticeable, he’ll point it out to me to make sure I fix it because a little problem could turn into a big problem. He stays on top of me and makes sure I do everything right.”

Ruiz is certain the offensive line is doing things right. He has been sure about that since preseason camp when he declared the line, often the recipient of finger-pointing and blame for the lack of offensive consistency the last few years, will be the strength of the offense.

Michigan ran for 308 yards against Western Michigan on Sept. 8 and last week helped produce 434 yards of total offense against SMU, but the real tests for the offensive line will come in Big Ten play.

Still, while the line remains a “work in progress,” as Warinner said last week, Ruiz is sticking to his preseason comment.

“Hundred percent,” Ruiz said. “Because I’m completely confident in the offensive line group, and my mind hasn’t changed. Not one bit.”

Ruiz said he has seen improvements in the line’s play each week, but he knows the group is not a finished product. He was asked if he’s happy with where the line is now.

“No,” he said. “We’re not disappointed, but we know we’re better and we know we’re going to continue to improve.”