With Michigan set to begin the 2020 season at Minnesota in two days, there are few questions remaining about which five offensive linemen will start up front.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has dished out positive reports about various Michigan blockers, but head coach Jim Harbaugh essentially confirmed that the starting five will look like this (from left to right): Ryan Hayes - Chuck Filiaga - Andrew Vastardis - Andrew Stueber - Jalen Mayfield. Now, Harbaugh stopped short of locking that in due to pre-game COVID tests and the like, but that five has consistently been singled out as the top group for the Wolverines.
With that said, it is rare for one offensive line unit to start and end the season unaltered for one reason or another. Be it injury or a performance drop off, quality backup linemen can be crucial for a team to have in a pinch. Luckily, Michigan has a familiar group of second stringers that have all worked with the top lineup.
"Zach Carpenter has been in with the ones," Warinner said. "Karsen has been in the ones a lot. Trevor Keegan has been in with the ones. Zak Zinter has even been in with the ones. All those guys have been in with the ones so it’s not like, oh man, I’ve never been in the one huddle before. They’ve all been in the one huddle for weeks rolling through there in case any of them have to go through the one huddle. They’re ready for that and they’re used to it."
So if the time comes when Michigan will have to substitute a lineman, there should be several adept players to choose from on the sideline.
And if a player is to enter the game on short notice for the aforementioned reasons, it is pivotal that one member of the O-Line can lead the new group-- that player for Michigan is senior center Andrew Vastardis.
"Andrew Vastardis has a lot of the original, the early calls," Warinner said. "He’s in charge of most of that. The quarterbacks have been really good—if they see something different because they have a better viewpoint to manipulate the protections. It’s a group effort. Joe [Milton] has been fantastic. He understands. The time we’ve had together, Vastardis understands. I think they’ve done a really fine job with our protections. I feel like there is a comfort level there. We haven’t had a lot of issues with that."
As Warinner alluded to, Vastardis makes a lot of the pre-snap checks and calls out elements of the defense, such as where the Mike linebacker is lined up. That takes a degree of defensive recognition and acumen that is only achieved through repetition and careful film study, and that is just what Vastardis has delivered over the years.
"He’s shown, going against our ones on a consistent basis, that he can play the position and he can play it at a high level," Warinner said. "I’m excited for him. Excited to see him get his opportunity. If you want something, you work hard enough and you believe in yourself and you do it with some energy and some passion, crazy things happen. He’s one of those guys that you root for. No bigger fan than me, I’m his coach but I’m the biggest fan. I can’t wait to watch him. They call him the Mack truck because he goes hard. He’ll hit you."
With Warinner vouching for Vastardis' fit on this particular offensive line, the Wolverines are in steady hands up front, even if they are hands that haven't started many games before. And on Saturday, those hands will be driving into a talented Minnesota team starting at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.
How confident are you in Michigan's offensive line this year? Will the extra time for film study this offseason pay off on the field? Let us know!