Michigan offensive linemen roll into NFL Combine four strong

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — When Ben Bredeson, Michigan’s longtime starting left guard and two-time captain walks into a room of offensive linemen preparing for the NFL Combine, it has a familiar feeling.

Michigan has 11 players at the combine this week preparing for April’s NFL Draft, including four starting offensive linemen from last season: Bredeson, left tackle Jon Runyan, center Cesar Ruiz and right guard Michael Onwenu.

Ben Bredeson

“You’ve got three of your best buddies sitting there and you talk just like you’re in Ann Arbor,” Bredeson said Wednesday. “It makes you relax a lot.”

That Michigan has four offensive linemen invited to the combine is confirmation, the players said, of the line’s overall improvement. Not long ago the Michigan offensive line was the punching bag for media and fans, but under the development of position coach Ed Warinner, entering his third season, the line has definitely made improvement.

“We have four guys here at the combine and that’s a huge honor for us and something we’ve been working on and I couldn’t be more proud of our unit to be able to have that kind of representation here,” said Bredeson, who won’t be going through drills this week because of a hamstring issue.

“Turning it around in the season, it felt like we took it upon ourselves in our room to carry the load a little bit at times when we were still trying to figure out a new system. It felt like we were able to do that. You saw the Notre Dame game when we were able to put 300 yards on them and control the line of scrimmage, control the game. It’s games like that show you why we have four offensive linemen here.”

Ruiz has been getting the most attention of the four and could be a first-round selection. His preference is to play center but he has made clear he’s willing to play at either guard spot. Runyan, whose father Jon played at Michigan and then had a lengthy NFL career with the Eagles, said NFL teams are looking at him mostly at guard and tackle.

“There’s actually a lot of different opinions,” Runyan said. “I kinda see myself projecting more inside at the next level, but I still feel like I will always have the capability of kicking out to tackle based on my athletic ability. I even did kinda play center my first year at Michigan, so I still have that.

“I’ve been pitching my versatility as an offensive lineman. Teams tell me not to push off the tackle idea. It’s something I’m fine with. I don’t care. My whole career, I’ve always just wanted to get on the field.”

Onwenu has slimmed down since the season and weighed in at 344 pounds, having dropped 23 pounds since he left Michigan.

“I don’t really feel different but everybody tells me I look different,” Onwenu said. “I did see the transformation in the mirror a little bit. It’s good people notice. People tend to notice before you do.”

Onwenu is confident in his abilities and said he’s willing to play any spot on the offensive line.

“Personally, I don’t think I have any weakness,” Onwenu said. “Strength, I’m able to adapt to a lot of different situations. My weight transformation, that’s one positive showing I have dedication to do what I have to do. I’m a team player. I’m a lead-by-example type of guy. I may not be the vocal guy, but I like to go about things the right way.”

Onwenu began his career at Michigan playing on the offensive and defensive lines. He said Wednesday that some teams have mentioned the option of perhaps playing on the defensive side.

“Hey, I gotta do what I gotta do,” he said. “I’m open to anything. It wouldn’t be anything new. I did play it in college. It wasn’t too complicated. I would probably primarily be a run stopper, so I know what I’ve got to do.”

Having four linemen here also means Michigan must replace four starters. Right tackle Jalen Mayfield is the only returning starter. But having four linemen invited, they said, says plenty about how much that position group has improved.

“It’s been showing we have talent and (have been) producing over the years,” Onwenu said. “We may not have had the outcome that we wanted at the end of the season but that doesn’t (take) away from us having good players and people who can actually play football.”