Ann Arbor — Among the bigger storylines for Michigan’s football team this spring, if not the biggest, is the development of the offensive line.
Mason Cole, a four-year starter, must be replaced, as must center Patrick Kugler, now on staff as a graduate assistant, and it seems Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his new offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, are already starting to the get the pieces in place.
Warinner had tremendous success coaching the offensive line at Ohio State before spending last season at Minnesota. He replaces Tim Drevno, who spent the first three seasons with Harbaugh at Michigan, coordinating the offense and coaching the offensive line.
Sophomore Cesar Ruiz, rated the No. 1 recruit at center in the 2017 class, started the final five games at right guard last season, but has moved to center this spring, which kicked off with the first practice on Friday.
Harbaugh was not stingy with praise for Ruiz.
“Cesar, is he going to be one of our best five? I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Harbaugh said last Friday after the first spring practice. “He may be one of our best if not best. We love him at the center position then we’ll go from there to choose the next best four.”
Michael Onwenu, who will be a junior, started eight games at right guard last season before suffering an injury, and he is expected to remain at right guard, while Ben Bredeson, a two-year starter at left guard, will resume that role.
“They’re really proven players inside,” Harbaugh said after the first practice. “Ben Bredeson is going to be in there, and Mike Onwenu is looking really solid and the competitive battles will wage out there at the tackle positions.”
Stephen Spanellis will factor in the competition at guard as will Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford.
Tackle is the major issue — Cole played left tackle last season even though center was his better position. Grant Newsome, who has been sidelined since suffering a gruesome injury to his right knee during the 2016 season, hasn’t been cleared yet to practice with the team.
Harbaugh said he feels “good about” Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who started seven games at right tackle in the second half of the season, Jon Runyan, and redshirt freshmen Chuck Filiaga and James Hudson.
“Eventually, you’re going to get the best five linemen that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “Ben will stay at guard. He’s a good guard. He’s been starting since his freshman year and has the strength to move a three-technique. I feel that’s where he’ll be most valuable to our team. And the tackles will train and compete.”
Last season, Michigan was 91st nationally in tackles for loss allowed and 110th in sacks allowed. Cole believes the offensive line will shine this fall.
“I think these guys are going to be really good,” Cole said. “They’re all headed in the right direction. More experience under their belt now. I can’t to watch. It’s going to be fun to be on the other side of it now and being a fan.”