Michigan's restocked offensive line full of 'hungry guys'
The biggest unknown for Michigan’s football team is when it might play again, but running a close second is how the offensive line might look when the Wolverines do finally have a game.
Michigan had to replace four starters who were all taken in the NFL Draft this past spring and recently, right tackle Jalen Mayfield, the only returning starter, decided to leave college football to prepare for the next draft because of the uncertainty of when the Big Ten might play again. The Big Ten decided Aug. 11 to postpone the season because of lingering concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and that came after a shutdown of on-campus activities, including spring football, in mid-March.
“It’s definitely been interesting without some of those faces that have been in the (offensive line) room for so long, especially with Jalen leaving,” said offensive lineman Ryan Hayes. “All our guys are hungry to lead, they’re hungry to play, so we’re going to be OK.”
Hayes, a 6-foot-7, 302-pounder, was recruited as a tight end but is now the penciled in starter at left tackle, made two starts at that position last season when Jon Runyan Jr. was nursing an injury. Hayes, who met with reporters Thursday via video conference, said that the starting five the Wolverines have run during practices — and he added it all “fluctuates every day” — features Chuck Filiaga and Trevor Keegan rotating at left guard, Andrew Vastardis at center, Andrew Stueber at right guard and Karsen Barnhart at right tackle.
Defensive end Kwity Paye sees the group in practice and while he noted the overall youth, he said the linemen are eager to prove themselves.
“I see a lot of hungry guys that want to go ahead and take that task,” Paye said Thursday. “It will be a big challenge for them, but I feel like they’ll get it done. There’s a lot of guys who want to play. There’s not a lot of guys who are scared of stepping up. I’ll be excited to see that group. Ryan Hayes has taken that leadership role on the O-line. He’s been getting those guys right.”
Hayes always has been the lead-by-example type. But he is evolving.
“Definitely now with all those guys gone, I’ve been trying to be a little more vocal and work on that side of my leadership than just leading by example,” he said. “It’s definitely been a little different for me, but I’m getting used to it.”
Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis in May said he felt good about the offensive line because Stueber and Hayes both have had some starting experience. Mayfield was still in the fold at that point.
“I'm excited about talent that we have there,” Gattis said at the time. “I think actually, we could be a little bit more athletic up front. I think that's going to help us significantly in the run game. But I think the challenge for this group will be catching up to our previous group in the pass-protection game.
“Our group in the past had the ability to be elite pass protectors. But this group that we have now probably has the ability to be a little bit better in the run game from an athletic standpoint. So I think there's positives and negatives to each side. But I think our ability to catch those guys up in both of those areas are gonna be key.”
Hayes said his experience in those two starts has gone a long way for him.
“That experience is everything,” he said. “It’s nice to have those starts and minutes. Just know I can do it, know I can play. Just gives you confidence.”