Kalis vows Michigan O-line ‘best’ in a while

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – It was the big announcement somehow lost during Michigan media day on Sunday.

This is breaking news, so pay attention.

“They’re moving the right tackle to quarterback starting the 2016 season,” right tackle Erik Magnuson revealed Sunday. “Erik Magnuson will be starting at the quarterback for the University of Michigan.”

Magnuson apparently does have a very good arm, but the jokester provided move evidence that this offensive line, which boasts four returning starters and has weathered its share of criticism the last few years, is feeling loose and confident.

Michigan returns junior Mason Cole, who has started all 25 games of his career at left tackle and was All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. He has moved to center. That makes room for a new face at left tackle, sophomore Grant Newsome, who has made one career start.

Magnuson, a fifth-year senior, has made 24 starts and was All-Big Ten third team last season. Kyle Kalis, a fifth-year senior right guard, has made 29 starts and also was third-team All-Big Ten. And left guard Ben Braden, a fifth-year senior, has made 25 starts and was All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Kalis didn’t mince words when assessing how good the line will be with that core group.

“It’s going to be damn good,” Kalis said, before repeating the statement once more for impact. “This is going to be one of the best lines we’ve had at Michigan for a while now. I’m not just saying that just to say it. The way we’ve come together this offseason especially with player-led practices, we’re on. Everything we’re seeing we’re just on.”

He clicked his fingers to emphasize how “on” the linemen are, then noted how much Michigan’s early home schedule can add to their confidence.

“You’re going to see it the first five games at home,” Kalis said. “That’s going to be the first test, is to do everything we can to be over and beyond. We’re going to be damn good, yeah.”

Measuring an offensive line with statistics can be difficult. The linemen often point at rushing totals, but perhaps the most telling stat the last three seasons has been sacks allowed. In 2013, Michigan had four different line combinations through the season, and Kalis and Magnuson earned some starts. The group was ranked 105th nationally in sacks allowed, giving up 36.

The line improved in 2014, allowing 26 sacks to rank 76th, and last season, the offensive line was tied for 27th in sacks allowed, giving up 18.

Center Graham Glasgow was an enormous loss from last year’s offensive line, but Kalis said there is a sense that even with the new addition of Newsome, or whoever might be the fifth lineman, the line is finally at a point it could be a strength of the team. While line depth is an issue, the positive for Michigan is its second year under Tim Drevno, the offensive coordinator and line coach.

“There’s so many different things I’ve learned, especially because I’ve got buddies who play at different places and I talk to them,” Kalis said. “I don’t know if I could say it to you, but it’s kind of like, sometimes things just go certain ways. Sometimes things don’t go the way you plan on it.

“Everything this past couple of years, me and Erik were talking (about) this the other day, everything is coming together. Everything is falling into place. It’s like a storybook ending. It would be amazing to end our last season here the way we thought coming in, the way it was going to be. That’s what’s happening. It’s awesome.”

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Certainly, another measure of the line’s production involves the run game. Michigan wasn’t the most consistent, averaging 158.2 yards, but a strong performance in the Citrus Bowl victory against Florida gives the returning starters a place to start. The Wolverines had 225 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in the bowl, and De’Veon Smith gained 109 yards.

Smith is pleased with what he will be running behind this fall.

“I’m happy about it,” Smith said. “You get, basically, the entire offensive line back. We did big things last year and that was our first time in the offense. The second year is going to be a lot easier for them. They’re going to be taking steps, making their blocks faster, and the holes are going to be even bigger. I have high expectations for our offensive line.”

The line is determined to make room for the running backs.

“We’re going to be better in the run game. We all want to be better in the run game,” Magnuson said. “That’s a big emphasis coach Drevno’s putting on there. We want to be able to dominate a game from start to finish, so I think we’re going to be really good. We have the players, we have the coach, we’ve gotta make it happen. We’ve played together, and that’s huge. We all have a lot of game experience, and experience is the biggest thing in sports.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said at media day that as of that moment, Newsome was a starting lineman.

“We’ll go into preseason practices with him at left tackle and Mason Cole at center, and we’ll eventually get to our five best,” Harbaugh said. “There’s others that might not be on the first string right now that have the license and ability to compete and maybe take one of the starting positions away from somebody that’s on the line.”

Kalis is confident Newsome, massive at 6-foot-7, 318 pounds, will quickly adjust.

“With Grant, I think it’s just a maturity thing,” Kalis said. “Being a young guy and if you don’t already come in with the mental edge, it’s one those things you’ve got to learn to be able to flip the switch when you’re called upon. He’ll find that eventually. It’s a matter of time. Hopefully it will be faster.”