Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the UM-Maryland and MSU-Northwestern games this weekend. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan has stayed with the same starting five on the offensive line since the beginning of the season, and position coach Ed Warinner likes their overall progress.
Developing cohesiveness and consistency are always key for an offensive line, and Warinner pointed to the statistics to illustrate the balance the offense has achieved. Michigan is 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten and faces Maryland on Saturday.
“I think three yards difference between our rush yards and our passing yards, so when you look at your start — 1,028 rushing yards, passing yards 1,031 — I would call that balance,” he said Wednesday.
He also likes that the line has one holding call and there have been two illegal procedure penalties in five games. But in a general sense, he’s most pleased with how they give are playing as a group.
“They’re more confident,” Warinner said. “They believe in what’s going on and consistency. It’s about how do we prepare. How do we learn and study our opponent and how do we finish the week.”
Since Warinner was hired from Minnesota earlier this year — he previously built some of the great Ohio State offensive lines — Michigan’s offensive linemen have spoken highly of their new position coach. From the time he arrived, the linemen said the biggest positive change was how he simplified things for them.
But what does that mean exactly?
Warinner went into great detail this week describing what it means to simplify for an offensive line that has taken significant criticism the last few seasons for being the weak link on the team.
He said there are, realistically, six things that can happen on any given play. To burden his players with knowing what to do against those six options would cause them to overthink and not allow them to react and play fast.
Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner says his group is more confident, consistent. The Detroit News
“So I have to simplify: What are the two most likely things to happen on this play in this situation? It's A or B. React to one of those two,” Warinner said. “And if he's right 80 percent of the time, we win. If our offensive line grades out at 80 percent, we're going to win offensively or win the play or win the day.
“But if I give him five or six things that could happen and now he grades out at 50 percent because he’s worried about too much and thinking about too much, then the play slows down, the reaction slows down and you start chasing ghosts, so to speak. It becomes incumbent on me (to determine) what are the two most important things on this play that you need to do? It’s A, and if it’s not A, you’re reacting to B and anything else that happens, we’ll live with the result and play the next play.”
It ultimately comes down to what Warinner determines the two options should be and then lets his players go from there.
“So there’s no heartburn, the kid doesn’t feel discomfort,” Warinner said. “if something else happens that we haven’t really worked on, that’s on me, right? That’s where you have to say what’s realistic in these situations for a player. I mean, what do they do? What are the tendencies of that team? Anybody could do anything. They could come in and not play any defense that they’ve played.
“Do we chase ghosts, or do we say, ‘This is what they are, this is what they’ve done, this is what we’re going to be ready for.’ It’s preparation up until kickoff, and once the kickoff starts, it’s adjustments. Who adjusts the best once the ball is kicked off. Who prepares the best prior to the kickoff.”
During the spring, lineman Stephen Spanellis explained how Warinner had changed their approach. Tim Drevno had previously been Michigan’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“Coach Warinner’s philosophy, he tells us that he doesn’t start calculus before everybody can pass Algebra 1,” Spanellis said. “I felt like before we would go straight to rocket science and try to cover everything possible in every meeting. And some guys can’t keep up and it doesn’t have value for a guy to sit in a meeting and they have no idea what’s going on fundamentally with normal plays like inside zone or power.”
Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. discusses the offensive line's improvement. The Detroit News
Warinner is about teaching and make sure they understand what every play does and what they must do on every play. He refers to that has having “tools” in their toolbox. In other words, they always have answers at their disposal.
“In general, that’s how I see the game, that’s how I envision it,” he said. “The more you put in there, the slower they play and the less confident they are, (and think) ‘Oh, what if he does that?’ You get that question a lot. I love to tell them don’t worry that. That’s on me. You worry about this stuff. That’s my job (to) make adjustments."
Warinner does not want the players to feel stress during games, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t pushing them during practices.
“You’ve got to push people, make them uncomfortable and you’ve got to make them do stuff they really don’t want to do,” he said. “That comes with trust. So they have to trust that what you’re doing and what you’re telling them will make them better and help them be a better player and help our team be a better team. Then you push them, to challenge them to do more than they've done in the past, do it better than they’ve done it in the past and you hold people accountable.
“Never let a rep go by where a guy does something that's not correct, either effort-wise or not correct assignment-wise and let it go. Because the minute you let something go, you've just reinforced it's OK. ... They don't ever get a play off in practice where somebody isn't coaching them or evaluating them or making sure that if you see it live in practice, it gets addressed and it definitely gets addressed when we watch video.
"If it's not a championship-level play in practice or in games, it gets addressed in a positive way to help them get better to understand what the standard is. The standard is we’re trying to win every game and we’re trying to be at a championship level to compete for a Big Ten title.”