Michigan's improved offensive line returns largely intact

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jon Runyan returns to an offensive line that has seen remarkable improvement under coach Ed Warinner.

Ann Arbor — Back in the old days, oh, say about two years ago, Michigan’s offensive line was the target of plenty of finger pointing.

Ed Warinner, who developed some great, championship offensive lines at Ohio State, arrived a year ago (after a season at Minnesota) and within a few weeks, the linemen were walking taller — or at least it seemed that way — and speaking with renewed confidence. Simpler, they said, everything was made simpler. And what that meant, simply, is Warinner took a lot off their plates and let them focus on fundamentals and prevented them from overthinking.

There’s no fool-proof way to evaluate an offensive line statistically. Sure, rushing stats are often used, but look at the difference in sacks and tackles allowed from the 2017 to the 2018 seasons.

Michigan ranked 110th nationally of 129 teams in sacks allowed and 91st in tackles for loss allowed in 2017. Last season, Michigan improved dramatically to 39th nationally in sacks allowed and 15th in tackles for loss allowed. For the record, Michigan averaged 203.8 yards rushing, 30th nationally.

The good news for the Wolverines is four of five starters return. Jon Runyan, first-team All-Big Ten last year, is back at left tackle, Ben Bredeson, a captain last season is entering his what seems like his 20th season as the Wolverines’ starter at left guard, is back for is final season at a position he has pretty much locked down since his freshman season. Cesar Ruiz, who started at center last season as a sophomore, returns, as does Michael Onwenu at right guard.

And then there’s right tackle, which likely will be manned by a younger lineman.

Juwann Bushell-Beatty was the starter last season but has graduated. He did not play the final two games and Andrew Stueber, a redshirt freshman last fall, started at Ohio State and in the bowl game. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who on Monday said this offensive line is perfectly aligned with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ up-tempo scheme, made clear there’s competition for that starting job between Jalen Mayfield, who redshirted last year, and Stueber.

“Right now, looking at Jalen Mayfield and Andrew Stueber at right tackle,” Harbaugh said. “More competition coming in when players show up in July. We have some freshman tackles coming in. Not a lot of tackles left currently in the building right now, so that’s why it’s so important the younger players are coming in. We did well recruiting offensive linemen in this past recruiting cycle. The way it’s shaping up right now, Stueber and Mayfield will be battling for that right tackle position and see how it progresses.”

Michigan signed six offensive linemen in the 2019 freshman class, including three tackles — Trente Jones, Trevor Keegan and Jack Stewart.


Twitter: @chengelis