Michigan offensive line moving in step with new coordinator Gattis
Ann Arbor — A year ago when Ed Warinner arrived at Michigan as offensive line coach, he discovered a group woefully lacking in confidence.
His first task was building that confidence, and hand in hand with that was simplifying the schemes, removing the excess that had been piled on their plates the previous season. That freed their minds from overthinking.
Now, as the Wolverines transition to new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ no-huddle, up-tempo offense, the offensive line, which returns four starters from last season, has been the buzz this spring. Most around the football building say the line could be a real strength this fall.
“It’s more accelerated now,” left guard Ben Bredeson, entering his final season, said recently of how the line wants to take that next step. “We used to be viewed as one of the weak points of the team to being a good one.
“Now we just want to be the best offensive line we can, and if that’s the best position group on the team, great. If it’s not, great. We’re just trying to be the most dominant offensive line in the Big Ten and against every single team we play. If we can win the battle in the trenches every single week, it puts us in a great spot to win that game.”
Jon Runyan, All-Big Ten first team last season, is back at left tackle, Bredeson is at left guard, Cesar Ruiz, who started at center as a sophomore last year, anchors the line, and at right guard is Mike Onwenu. Right tackle remains unsettled as Andrew Stueber, who started the final two games last fall at the position, and Jalen Mayfield are in a fierce competition this spring.
They alternate as the starter each spring practice.
“I feel great about my group,” Warinner said Friday night after practice. “When you have four returning starters that played very solid football last year and they’re such good people, they want to get better. We laid out to ‘em the first day they got back here, they had a paragraph about what we wanted them to do on a physical level, how to get better as a player and how to get your body better. What could the strength coaches and the nutritionists do with these people to improve them? Better flexibility. Better lower body strength. More upper body strength. Better this, better that, all these things. We had a real good plan for each guy. They worked on it tremendously hard. I see a lot of improvement in a pretty good room.”
Warinner said a year after his arrival, and with four returning starters, the line is in a different place with heightened goals.
“It’s a whole different conversation now,” he said. “We’re trying to take them to the next level, which is winning conference championships or playing at a championship level in all the games, and each guy playing at a level they could be better.”
The new offense is playing to everyone’s strength, including the coaches, Warinner said. Pretty much every assistant on Michigan’s offensive staff has had some experience running a spread offense, so the transition has been smooth.
“Last year was the first time I was part of an offense in the last 14 years that huddled,” he said. “I’ve been no-huddle since 2003. We’re back to what I was at all my other stops, so I get it. I get the no-huddle, I get the whole component. I’m very comfortable in this offense. I’m very comfortable in all the schemes we’re doing. A lot of them are the same, there are just different pieces to it, different formations. I think the linemen have adjusted well.”
He jokingly rationalized with the linemen what the added play count might do to them physically. Perhaps Michigan runs 70 plays a game versus 50 from last year — that's quite a jump. But because it’s no-huddle, he told them they no longer have to run the seven yards to the huddle and back to the line of scrimmage.
“The trade-off is we run 20 more plays but 14 less yards,” Warinner said, laughing. “That made sense to them. It sounded good.”
Gattis’ offense makes sense on a number of personnel levels, according to Warriner, starting with quarterback Shea Patterson. Patterson started every game last season, with Dylan McCaffrey as his backup.
“We have a lot of good skill pieces,” Warinner said. “We’re doing the same things, just the formations are different and the huddling and not under center. We have multiple receivers that have what you would call high potential. We have a quarterback who played in a spread offense. It’s tailor-made for (Patterson's) skillset. Dylan is learning it and he’s doing a good job. Joe Milton’s learning it. They have skillsets that match this. The tight ends, the running backs. I think we’re great. I don’t think there’s anything that we’re missing that you need to be speed in space spread offense, no huddle. I don’t think, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go recruit some of these.’ I don’t think we’re missing anything.”
One of the biggest improvements on the line this offseason has been Onwenu at right guard. He is listed at 6-foot-3, 350 pounds and has apparently dropped close to 20 pounds since the start of the year in an effort to follow through on the paragraph he was given that encouraged him to get leaner.
“He’s a big human,” Warinner said. “He’s leaner, he’s quicker. Oh my gosh is he moving. Playing better with his hands. Understanding little details. Practicing better. It all starts with his attention to detail in meetings. He’s improved in every area. Wow is he talented. His ceiling is so high. (He) can be unstoppable.”