Ex-Wolverines: Offensive line making huge strides

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Mason Cole

Ann Arbor – Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno decided to hold a Big Man camp last weekend at Michigan Stadium, the same day the second “Aerial Assault” quarterback camp was going on.

And for several hours Saturday, there was quite a gathering of former Michigan linemen, mostly of the NFL caliber, like Jake Long, David Baas, Patrick Omameh and Mike Martin.

“You think of Michigan,” Drevno said last Saturday, “you think of big men.”

Quarterback will always draw the most attention, but the offensive and defensive lines are the heart of a team, and while Michigan’s upcoming defensive line already is attracting a lot of attention, the offensive line is returning four starters.

Drevno said if he had to start a game right now, he would go with those four – Erik Magnuson at tackle, Mason Cole at center and Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at the guards – and sophomore Grant Newsome at left tackle.

Newsome is the wild card who got some playing time last season and plenty of reps in the spring. He replaces Cole, who is making the move to center to replace Graham Glasgow, now with the Detroit Lions. Cole has started at left tackle since his freshman year, but the transition to center has gone well, although the learning curve is steep.

“It is a challenge,” former Michigan center Jack Miller, now an offensive line grad assistant at Toledo, said at the Big Man camp. “If there’s anybody who’s up to it, it’s this guy (Cole). There’s a lot of moving pieces going on at once (playing center). You need to be able to multitask and make sure everyone is on the same page while also worrying about yourself, which is a challenge at times. That’s why it takes a talented guy and a smart guy and Mason is definitely one of them.

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“To go to center from tackle is a more cerebral than anything. You’re not on an island like you are at tackle. It’s probably a little bit easier to play inside pass-wise, but run-wise, you’ve got to be on your game. You’ve got to make sure your leadership skills and understanding of the offense is on point, otherwise you won’t succeed. But if anyone can do it, it’s this guy and I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

Jake Long, the former All-American tackle at Michigan and a No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, has always kept tabs on Michigan, particularly the play of the offensive line.

Long, healthy now after a long rehabilitation from knee surgeries and a free agent, said he likes the direction of this offensive line under Drevno and head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“They’ve got a lot of returning guys and last year I thought they took a big step,” Long said. “They’re coming off the ball and hitting guys and moving guys off the line. I think with the returning guys they’ve got, they’re going to have a strong line. I’m excited.”

Long said he can see how much of a difference Harbaugh, who led the team to a 10-3 record last year in his first season, has made in the program that has largely struggled the last decade. Long's Michigan career ended after the 2007 season.

“Just watching from afar, he knows how to coach, he knows how to motivate these kids.” Long said. “He brings a lot of energy and tradition back and is doing good things.”

Miller left the program in the spring of 2015, opting not to play his fifth year. He still knows many of players on the team and said he likes the direction of the program, especially the offensive line.

“Putting these guys in a great position to succeed really is the biggest difference,” Miller said of the line. “These guys are confident in what they’re doing and they’re being taught by the best guys in the game. So when you put those things together, you’re looking at a recipe for success.”