Michigan center Cesar Ruiz said his duties haven't changed drastically with the move to a new offense. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan center Cesar Ruiz feigned hurt feelings when he was asked what physical changes he had made to prepare for the Wolverines’ new up-tempo offense.
The affable 6-foot-4 Ruiz is down to a svelte 319 pounds. He decided on his own to shed some weight in the offseason to make himself better prepared to handle offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ no-huddle pro-spread offense. Michigan begins the season Aug. 31 against Middle Tennessee State.
“I’m surprised y’all didn’t notice,” Ruiz said, drawing laughs from reporters on Thursday. “I lost about 20 pounds this offseason. As soon as I found out Coach Gattis was coming in, I knew I couldn’t be running around here chubby no more. I knew I was going to have to trim up a bit. I lost that weight so I can get used to running back on the ball without anything holding me back.
"I feel completely different. I am just running around. I feel free. I can run a lot more. I have been exposing what I can do a lot more in open field and in terms of me being in space."
Ruiz is one of four returning starters on the offensive line and will start for the second straight season at center. He said he was never told he had to cut weight, but he understood the demands of the offense and wanted to be at his best. He believed the extra weight would be counter-productive.
“I took a crazy approach this offseason,” he said. “I’ve taken this offseason way more serious than I ever have in terms of me doing extra work, staying flexible, eating the right things, making sure my weight is where I want it at.”
Left guard Ben Bredeson said last month that when he first learned Gattis would take over the offense and install something completely different, he was “skeptical.” He quickly lost that skepticism during spring practice.
“I didn’t know how everything was going to fit at first, and then going through spring ball, the personnel we have fits this offense perfectly,” Bredeson said. “It’s ideal.”
Ruiz was delighted when Gattis was hired
“This offense allows me to expose my athleticism a little more," Ruiz said. "I'm able to do a lot of different things I wasn't doing last year in terms of how I’m blocking and me pulling and being out in the open field doing a lot of things. Once I found out we got the new offense and once I found out it was Coach Gattis, I already knew what we were getting into, and I was really excited."
While Ruiz has improved himself physically, he said his off-field preparation that includes watching film also has been beneficial. Michigan averaged 204.1 yards per game rushing last season, ranking sixth in the Big Ten. Ruiz and the Wolverines allowed 1.8 sacks per game — fourth-best in the conference.
"I’ve seen the most improvement with my football IQ," Ruiz said. "I figured it out last year, but I took it upon myself to take my game to another level, really try and mature a lot more and put more things on my plate. I already had a lot on my plate, but I wanted to put more on my plate so that way I am able to make sure everything is all right.
“I think that’s where I’ve seen the most improvement, me being able to recognize different things and me being more comfortable and not shaken up or getting tightened up when things don’t go right."
Although Ruiz was rated the No. 1 center coming out of high school, he still had a learning curve at the next level. He learned plenty last year and he’s eager to show that.
“Last year was my first year officially starting at center, and throughout the season you’re gonna learn a lot of things from a lot of your mistakes,” he said. “This season, I took it upon myself to fix a lot of those mistakes.
"Right now, I’m very, very comfortable with where I am. There’s still a lot of things I really want to do and accomplish and improve on in my game. But right now, like I said, that’s where I feel like I’ve improved at the most, my mindset on being mature and knowing a lot of different things and being more comfortable.”