Michigan O-line meshing as one solid unit

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s offensive line — with the exception of the season-ending knee injury suffered by left tackle Grant Newsome — has had the luxury of that all-important chemistry that defines solid line play.

Kyle Kalis, Mason Cole, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson have played on the Michigan line for several years together, meaningful for an offensive line, which draws from consistency and familiarity as players get used to playing next to each other. In other words, they’re so close, they could probably finish each other’s sentences.

Kyle Kalis (67) has played for awhile with Mason Cole, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson on Michigan's offensive line, which is why they have good chemistry.

Tim Drevno, Michigan’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, said this week the Michigan offensive line is better than it was last year. Part of that comes from playing in this system for a second season, and part of it is that they’ve matured together. The only new member now is Juwann-Bushell-Beatty, who took over at left tackle after Newsome’s injury in the Wisconsin game.

Michigan is now ranked No. 3 and faces Illinois on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines have not played in two weeks, since a 78-0 victory at Rutgers in which they scored nine rushing touchdowns.

“They’ve had so many reps, game reps,” Drevno said, explaining why the line play has improved. “When you go in the classroom and you teach, they do a good job of really absorbing what you’re teaching. They ask the questions, and they’ll cover you as a coach. Maybe you didn’t get a chance to get to that, but they’ll ask on the field and they’re coaching the younger guys, because they know what you want.

“You just look at older guys that are very locked in and want to be successful in whatever they do. It’s neat. It’s a fun deal when you walk in a room like that. And it’s neat because they’re laying a great foundation for the younger guys, because we always say that tradition never graduates.”

A year ago, Graham Glasgow, then the Wolverines’ center, said he would take the lead in the meeting room and quiz the players and instruct.

Glasgow is now with the Detroit Lions, and Drevno said the veterans — Kalis, Magnuson, Cole and Braden — have all filled that role.

Michigan vs. Illinois preview: Stop the run

“It’s a very interactive room,” Drevno said. “We want to be interactive. Any time you’re teaching people, you want to make sure they’re asking questions. It’s important they understand what you really want so when they do step on the field for practice, it’s crystal clear that they understand. We don’t want anything where they’re not sure.

“We’re always open for ideas, too. We listen to those players. The players are the ones who are out there doing it. We always want to know what they think.”

Bushell-Beatty is settling in at left tackle, getting acclimated to his role in an established line. He has lost about 25 pounds since last season after changes to his diet and increasing his activity in the weight room. Now, he's gaining confidence on the field.

“He’s really changed his body, and it’s really important to him,” Drevno said. “He takes pride in his work to be good. He’s really got good foot-turnover speed. He’s playing with strength and that comes from the weight-room work that he’s had. He’s done a really, really nice job. Progressed very nicely. Juwann is a very good person that wants to be good at whatever he puts his hands on, so he’s got a great attitude.

“He needs to keep doing what he’s doing, keep improving. I feel absolutely comfortable with him at left tackle, I really do. There’s not one thing we need to pinpoint with Juwann. Everybody has different things they need to get better at."

Illinois at Michigan

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: BTN/WWJ

Line: Michigan by 39

Records: Illinois 2-4 (1-2 Big Ten), 3 Michigan 6-0 (3-0)

Series: Michigan leads 69-23-2 (Michigan 45-0, Oct. 13, 2012)