Ann Arbor — Michigan center Cesar Ruiz is mindful of the small things that need to be studied, the extra work that needs to be done and the big picture of balancing and leading an offensive line on which so much will hinge this fall.
Ruiz, the No. 1 center coming out of high school at IMG Academy, is now set to become the Wolverines’ starting center this fall. He made six starts at right guard last season.
“I feel like I’ve been working every day, doing extra stuff, taking extra snaps, calling (graduate assistant) coach (Patrick) Kugler and asking him for extra film on different NFL players and doing everything I can so when the first game comes around I’m ready,” Ruiz said last Sunday. “I’m just trying to make myself the best I can be.”
He and teammates Stephen Spanellis and Andrew Vastardis have been working in the offseason and taking snaps as a center group, working with the quarterbacks when possible.
Ruiz likes to watch film of Mike Pouncey, a first-round pick in 2011 from Florida now with the Chargers.
“He does a little of everything,” Ruiz said of Pouncey. “He’s got that dog in him. He’s a great player. I’ve been trying to resemble his game since I was younger. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.
“It’s just little things I need to work on. I’ll ask coach Kugler, ‘Hey, could you find some run-blocking tape of Mike Pouncey in college or the NFL so I could try to take that into my game?’”
Ben Herbert is Michigan’s new strength coach and the players have quickly taken to his approach. Ruiz weighs “320ish” these days, up from the 316 listed on Michigan’s last roster, but he said he feels rejuvenated.
“I feel like a completely different person,” Ruiz said. “I’m doing stuff in that weight room I didn’t know I could do. He’s testing me every day.”
Herbert has the players doing single-leg squats where they get on a jump box that Ruiz said is about 5- or 6-feet high and they have to lower themselves in a squat position on one leg.
“We had baseline testing before we actually started the workouts, and I couldn’t do one,” Ruiz said. “Now I can do 25 on each leg. With ease. It’s crazy how much stronger I’ve gotten. I’ve noticed my body has changed a lot. (Defensive end) Rashan (Gary) came up to me (Sunday) and said, ‘Yo, I noticed your upper body is looking pretty big.
“I’m a little heavier but not much. (Herbert is) worried about how well you play on the field not your weight. I definitely feel more flexible. I’m more agile. He’s a genius. I don’t question anything he tells us to do. Even if it sounds crazy, we do it.”
The most unique thing Ruiz said Herbert has had him do involves a bench press utilizing a 10-pound bamboo bar with weights hanging from the sides.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Ruiz said laughing. “it’s more about stabilizing the bar since it wiggles a lot because it bends.”
During spring practice, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Ruiz may be one of the best, if not the best offensive lineman on the team heading into the season. The line is now being coached by Ed Warinner, who most recently coached for a season at Minnesota but before that had tremendous success working with Ohio State’s offensive line.
Warinner praised Ruiz when speaking to reporters during the spring.
“(Ruiz) is young, but man, is he going to be good there,” Warinner said.
The linemen have not held back discussing how much Warinner has helped them progress since his arrival. The most significant thing, they said, is he has simplified the game for them.
“I love Coach Warinner. He brings the best out of all of us,” Ruiz said. “He coaches us hard. If you’re doing something right, he’s going to try to find something that you still need to work on. Everything is not always going to be perfect, so that’s what I like about Coach Warinner — he always gives me something to work on.”
Ben Bredeson, a junior, will start at left guard for the third straight season, and Michael Onwenu is expected to start at right guard.
“I feel really comfortable with those two guys by my side,” Ruiz said.
Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Jon Runyan Jr. are projected to start at the tackles.
“Juwann, I call him Uncle Wann — he doesn’t like that. Don’t tell him I said that — he’s been here longer than all of us, so he’s really become a leader of the offensive line, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and holding everyone accountable,” Ruiz said. “The offensive line, we’re one unit, so if see somebody needs help, we help each other out.”
Warinner has already made encouraging steps with the offensive line, Ruiz said, and assured the evidence will be on the field this fall.
“The O-line always had that dog in them. We always had that nastiness, that tenacity,” he said. “We always had that. We see it a lot more right now. Guys are feeling a lot better. Everybody is bigger and stronger. Guys are feeling a lot better. Coach Warinner is really coaching us well. You can see it through the spring film. Everybody is looking really good.
“Nobody’s going to point fingers at us this year. We’re definitely ready to go. It’s a nasty offensive line. Coach Warinner has been helping us out a lot. We’re going to get it done this year.”