Michigan Offensive Line In 2020: Will The Wolverines Take A Step Back?
It's been more than a decade since Michigan lost offensive linemen with an accumulated 100 or more career starts (in 2007, U-M said goodbye to its left tackle, left guard, center and right guards, who had 109 career starts between them). In 2019, the Wolverines are losing 138 career starts between left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., (26), left guard Ben Bredeson (46), center Cesar Ruiz (31) and right guard Michael Onwenu (35).
Despite that massive turnover, there is excitement about the Maize and Blue's prospects up front in 2020. Why? Two reasons:
• Ed Warriner has re-established himself, after previous stops at Ohio State and Minnesota, as one of the preeminent offensive line coaches in college football.
• Michigan has seven four-star OL recruits, including six among the Top 250 prospects in the country in their respective classes, ready to compete for the vacancies.
And those seven don't even include redshirt freshman Zach Carpenter, who was named Michigan's Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.
"Zach Carpenter really started to shine and show some things," Warinner said in the linked article from WolverineDigest. "He got hurt early in August and missed two or three weeks there with an ankle. Once he came back, got healthy and got rolling, he really showed that he can be an outstanding center."
Carpenter, returning right tackle starter Jalen Mayfield and projected left tackle Ryan Hayes all rank among our site's picks for the Top 20 Wolverines Under 20, with Mayfield possessing the greatest potential to earn all-conference first-team honors in 2020.
The 13-game starter this past year provides at least one foundational piece to build around while Hayes picked up enough experience a year ago - starting two games, including the opener - that there shouldn't be any wide-eyes at the tackle bookends when the Maize and Blue begin the 2020 season at Washington.
While next year's starting five should feature better overall athletes than the contingent that just walked out the door (though no one should make it out to be that Bredeson, Ruiz and Onwenu, especially, were old-school pro-style power linemen only), it remains to be seen if they will prove as capable of establishing downhill running opportunities or be as proficient in pass protection.
It would probably help if the guard positions were manned by redshirt juniors Andrew Stueber and Chuck Filiaga, lending some age and experience to a line short on both, but redshirt freshmen Karsen Barnhart and Nolan Rumler are expected to factor into the competition and if they win the jobs, Michigan would feature one its youngest starting fives in school history.
Anyone expecting such a line to proceed without hiccups is naive, but listening to Warriner - a relatively straight shooter - express his excitement over the linemen vying for the four open assignments should give those fearing the worst reason to be optimistic.
Prediction: I don't think there's anyway that Michigan improves upon the performance of the 2019 offensive line, but I also don't expect this unit to take a big step back, the type of regression one could anticipate with so many first-time starters (even Stueber, if he wins the RG post, would be making his first starts at guard).
What's exciting is that with the athleticism likely to take the field next fall, the Wolverines should be well-suited to accelerate Josh Gattis' speed-in-space spread offense relying more on receiver and running back screens, and outside zone-read concepts rewarding linemen that can pull and get out in front of ball carriers on the edge of a defense.