CHICAGO — At the start of the 2018 season, the depth at offensive line was an area of question.
There was no clear starter at either tackle position, and Michigan was coming off a season in which it allowed the second-most sacks in the Big Ten. But over the course of the season, the offensive line developed and finished tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed in the conference.
Fast forward to the present. The Wolverines are returning four of last year’s five starters, with the only question being who will win the battle for the starting right tackle position.
“I think the way things stand right now, our offensive line is pretty darn good,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Maybe as good as we’ve had.”
Unlike the questions that faced the offensive line last season — which were more of a concern — the question this year is more of a testament to the depth that has finally developed up front for the Wolverines.
Senior guard Ben Bredeson is a part of that slew of returning lineman. He believes the competition for the final tackle position between redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield and junior Andrew Stueber couldn’t be any closer.
“It’s very close,” Bredeson said. “And that’s just not me trying to hide anything. It’s genuinely something that’s going to get solved in camp between (Mayfield) and Stueber. Once that happens then we’ll know from there. But not even anybody in the building knows right now.”
Last season, Mayfield appeared in three games while Stueber appeared in all 14 games and started one. Stueber established himself as a solid option to be a starter this season, while Mayfield continues to impress with his development.
“I think Jalen’s going to get a lot of significant time whether that be a starter or whether that be a backup,” Bredeson said. “He’ll play a lot. He’s a tremendous athlete — a great athlete as an offensive lineman. He’s very mobile, he’s quick, he’s strong. He’s working on his technique every single day. He’s a guy that when we line up next to each other it’s not like I look over there and worry. Jalen is going to be fine. He does a great job and he’s only getting better.”
Harbaugh was also quick to praise Mayfield and added that every time he watches film, he notices “No. 73.”
Regardless of who wins the job, both Harbaugh and Bredeson had high praise for the development of the offensive line and the work that offensive line coach Ed Warinner has done.
“Ed Warinner, he did a great job for us last year as the offensive line coach,” Harbaugh said. “Our run game improved. Our pass protection is better. We gave up less sacks. We saw the players improve a lot individually and collectively.”
What was once seen as a gaping hole on the depth chart is now becoming one of Michigan’s strong suits.