Center Cesar Ruiz: Michigan's O-line will be a game changer
Ann Arbor — Michigan center Cesar Ruiz’s voice was a bit raw and a tad raspy, but he got his message across loud and clear to media questioning how good the offensive line can be this fall.
Ruiz, a sophomore, will be the Wolverines’ starting center when they open the season Sept. 1 at Notre Dame. He has been reunited with quarterback Shea Patterson, for whom he was the center at IMG Academy.
“Yeah, it is a strength of our offense,” Ruiz said, making a bold statement about an offense that ranked among the nation’s worst last year in sacks and tackles for loss allowed. “Our offensive line will be the one strength of our offense this year.”
That seems to be a substantial leap, but Ruiz believes that the line, which replaces two starters from last year, is going to be a difference maker.
Why so much confidence?
“You’ll see. You’ll see,” Ruiz said, going with a chorus that other offensive linemen have used this offseason. “We’re going to work, that’s all I can say.
“It just feels, you can just tell. It’s one of them things, if you were out there watching practice you could see the offensive line has improved so much. It’s just a great thing to watch. You can feel we’ve gotten better. You feel when you do different things and you run different plays. We get a lot of things done we couldn’t do before. We’re doing a lot of things better now.”
The biggest factor, the linemen have said, is the addition of coach Ed Warinner, who famously built some standout lines at Ohio State. He spent last season at Minnesota before joining Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan.
Since spring practice, the players have spoken glowingly of Warinner and how he has simplified the offensive line playbook.
“Coach Warinner brings a different attitude to the O-Line,” Ruiz said. “We’re getting a lot of things going this year. In practice, you feel the energy, you feel everything. We’ve come a long way. Coach Warinner is a very wise man. He knows a lot of different things. He knows a lot. He’s been around a lot.
“He’s been coaching for so long he’s been able to share some of that experience with us, some of the things he’s learned along the way he’s been teaching us a lot of things. We’ve been implementing them into our game and it’s really showing and really paying off.”
The offensive linemen feel they’re athletic and to prove it to themselves with different competitions like races and one-on-ones with receivers and defensive backs.
To his left is guard Ben Bredeson, who will be starting for a third straight season. To his right, Michael Onwenu, the starter last season until he was injured and Ruiz stepped in, and Stephen Spanellis have been competing.
“Both of those guys are really talented,” Ruiz said. “When I have them to next to me, it’s just every guy has their own little different talent. I couldn’t really give you a specific thing that makes them so different. They both have their special characteristics.”
Ruiz is a sophomore but he has taken on a major leadership role on the line as the center. That means he’s calling plays and also directing the line.
And that’s why he didn’t have much of a voice when he spoke to reporters last week.
“Been yelling all day,” he said, smiling. “I’m pretty vocal on the field. I have to make a lot of calls, I have to communicate because if I don’t, we can’t function. I love that role, I love being a vocal guy. I love being able to communicate and lead things.
Ruiz sounds like a veteran when he talks like that. But his maturity belies his youth.
“I feel I’ve grown up a lot,” Ruiz said. “I was 17 years when I first walked on this campus. I’m 19 now. I’m not old. Yet. But I’ve grown up a lot. Had to take a leadership role a little but, be a role model to a lot of young guys”