Magnuson sees better days for Michigan offensive line
Ann Arbor — The way Michigan right tackle Erik Magnuson looks at it, the offensive line’s best performance of last season, in the bowl game against Florida, is the bottom, and what comes next must continue to be an improvement.
Michigan gained 503 yards of offense against a highly-rated Florida defense in a 41-7 victory on New Year’s Day.
It was the Wolverines’ best rushing output since the fourth game of the season. The second half of the regular-season schedule they struggled to find consistency in the run game, but after a month’s rest, they had 225 yards rushing against the Gators. De’Veon Smith led Michigan with 109 rushing yards, and Drake Johnson and Sione Houma added rushing touchdowns.
“We were healthy (for the bowl game), that was the biggest thing,” Magnuson said Tuesday night after practice. “We had a month to prepare. That was the first time that everyone knew the offense, everyone knew what they were supposed to do so now that whole entire month, all of us focused on playing faster, playing more physical. Everyone was on the same page. We ended the season on a high note, but we’ve got to take it the next step from there this offseason. Everyone should know the offense unless you’re an early enrollee.
“The way we played against Florida is, I think, just the very bottom. We can go higher than that.”
Michigan did not alter its starting offensive line all season, an important point for a position group that responds to consistency. But center Graham Glasgow has moved on as he pursues an NFL career, and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Tim Drevno has switched Mason Cole, the Wolverines’ starter at left tackle the last two seasons, to center. That has allowed for 6-foot-7, 300-pound Grant Newsome, a sophomore this fall, to move into the left tackle spot.
Cole worked at center last spring and said last week during practices in Florida that he has had few issues transitioning and was snapping well.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Harbaugh said after last Friday’s practice. “Mason can play left tackle Mason can play guard, Mason can play center. I’m very confident that he will be a very good starter at a very high level at whatever position we play him at. We’ll continue to look at what our best combination will be.”
Magnuson said that after five practices, the offensive line is cohesive and in sync.
“I think we’re already there,” he said. “Last year we had five guys who were new to the system, this year we have four guys new to the system, one stepping in, but he already knows the offense. It’s not like he’s an early enrollee or anything like that.
“We ended the season playing the best as an offensive line. That was our best performance all around. We’ve already taken a step further than that this offseason. We’ve already taken a step further than that this offseason.
A main reason why that step has been taken is the performance in the bowl.
“Definitely that game was big for our confidence,” Magnuson said. “They’re an SEC school and they had a good defense, they had good stats, so for us to go in there and put together the game we did, I felt our offensive line really played well. Built our confidence a lot and we’ve got to build on that.”
For Magnuson, who also has started at guard during his Michigan career, returning as the right tackle helps his ability to improve and make progress.
“This is my first time since I’ve been at Michigan that I’m coming into the next season playing the same position, which is a huge (thing),” he said. “I’ve got a really good feel for playing right tackle just playing it all season and understand the offense a lot better from that position. So now going into this season, I’m a step ahead than where I was.”
And with four starters apparently back in the lineup, Magnuson said he and fellow seniors Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis along with Cole, will share a leadership role. Their first goal is to make whoever will play left tackle, most likely Newsome, comfortable in the job.
“We’ve got to play together and we’ve got to bond,” Magnuson said, speaking for the entire season. “And that’s a big thing for spring ball going into fall camp.”