BY TIM ROHAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 8, 2010
Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense may be predicated on speed, but as any coach will tell you, football games are won and lost in the trenches.
An overlooked transition with Rodriguez’s arrival is the effect on the offensive linemen within the offense. Instead of blocking for a power run game and pro-style offense, the Wolverines had to adjust to a quicker offense based on spreading defenses out and effectively using team speed — a far cry from the three yards and a cloud of dust days of the past.
Entering the third year under Rodriguez, Michigan’s offensive line is now getting comfortable within the system’s philosophy.
“We’re hoping and expecting them to be improved, because it’s year three,” Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. “We’ve got some returning guys who have been through a lot of game plays, a lot of game plays, a lot of practice times. And the more you do something, the more comfortable and better you get with it. But we’re very pleased with those guys.
“And I think (they’re) playing the best that I’ve seen this spring, since we’ve been here. It’s fun to see all of those guys feel confident about it.”
In the middle of the offensive line’s success is redshirt junior center David Molk.
Last season, the Wolverines learned the hard way just how important Molk is to stability of the line. He broke his foot in Michigan's third game against Eastern Michigan last season and returned to action just five weeks later. But just four plays into Molk's first game back against Penn State, he tore his right ACL.
And with the injury, Rodriguez had to shuffle around players from one position to another. Though versatility is a coach’s dream, there is still something to say about consistency within an offensive line.
Michigan coaches hope that's something the team has gained entering the 2010 season.
With Molk out last year, redshirt junior Mark Huyge, senior Perry Dorrestein and redshirt sophomore Patrick Omameh gained valuable experience.
And now with David Moosman, Tim McAvoy and Mark Ortmann all graduating, a pair of capable redshirt freshmen look to step up in their absence.
Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are the two towering bookends that are making names for themselves in spring practice. Lewan, listed at 6-foot-8 and 283 pounds, is playing left tackle and Schofield, listed at 6-foot-7 281 pounds, is playing right tackle this spring.
“We saw the talent last year when they were on the scout team,” Magee said. “It’s going to be fun to watch them competing in our offense. For freshmen, they’re immature, they’ve got a lot to learn, but they’re competitive.
“Those guys are bigger than they look, because strength and conditioning coach Mike (Barwis) does a good job of putting the weight on them. And they’re powerful right now. The good thing is they have another summer to keep improving.”
Rodriguez said last month that the duo, along with injured redshirt freshman Quinton Washington had made significant strides in the spring, especially in the weight room.
“I think we’re a strong team,” Rodriguez said. “We need to get bigger. … We needed to be a bigger football team.”
There is still time this spring for the big guys up front to bulk up to compete against the physical defensive lines and linebackers around the Big Ten. Last year, the Wolverines gave up 27 sacks and an average of more than six and a half yards lost per sack.
And it might be the miscues that don’t show up on the stat sheet proving how strong the line is. With several experienced players returning, a certain comfort level may come with lining up next to each other and knowing what exactly to do.
Including Molk, Michigan has five offensive linemen who will have been in Ann Arbor for at least three full years this fall. And that includes two-plus years of studying up and working within Rodriguez’s offense.
The depth and understanding may be the best since Rodriguez has taken over, and Molk may be the glue for the whole operation.
“We think David could be one of the best centers in the Big Ten,” Rodriguez said. “(He) was playing as such until he got hurt last year. And he’ll be back. David is a tremendous football player and he’ll be the leader of our guys up front.”