One of the Bens on the left side of Michigan’s offensive line is a fifth-year senior, and the other is a true freshman, but the similarities between them outweigh the differences.
Ben Braden, a fifth-year senior from Rockford, Mich., will make his 32nd career start on the Wolverines’ offensive line this weekend against Maryland. Ben Bredeson, a true freshman from Hartland, Wisc., will likely make his fourth.
The two lived next to each other for the duration of fall camp, and now they play next to each other, Braden at left tackle, Bredeson at left guard. In addition to their dorm this summer and their first name, they also share a meeting room, a heritage from the Upper Midwest and a love of hockey.
Michigan made the change during its bye week to start both of them against Illinois on Oct. 22 and against Michigan State on Saturday. After starting left tackle Grant Newsome suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 1, the Wolverines gave redshirt sophomore Juwann Bushell-Beatty the nod at that position the next week against Rutgers. They also started Bredeson in place of Braden — who has battled injuries for most of the season — at left guard.
Michigan then emerged from its bye week in a new alignment, starting Braden at left tackle for the first time in his career. It was not a drastic change, nor did it respond to a significant need. But when the Wolverines tested different arrangements during their week off, they found success with Braden and Bredeson on the left side, and so the two Bens it was.
“We were constantly fluid, changing things up all the time,” Bredeson said. “You just have to stay ready, and that’s what I did. That’s what everyone on the line does. We all have to be ready to go when our number gets called.”
That wasn’t always the case. Michigan started the same five offensive linemen in the same five spots for all 13 games last season. Newsome, who occasionally played as a sixth offensive lineman, was the only other one to play significant snaps.
This year, the Wolverines have used four different combinations, with all of the changes coming on the left side. Part of the fluctuation is because of Newsome’s injury, and another part is depth — Michigan did not have Bredeson last year, and Bushell-Beatty played sparingly until last month.
The unit also appears to be more versatile this season. Junior center Mason Cole started at left tackle for two years. Bredeson often draws comparisons to him for his ability to move around. And until Braden went in at left tackle during the bye week, he had not practiced there since fall camp.
Among Michigan’s group, Bredeson steps into a group with three fifth-year seniors and another three-year starter in Cole. He seems to have built a particularly strong rapport with Braden.
When he first spoke to media in late September before the Wisconsin game, he said Braden had mentored him “a lot more than you can imagine.” The two also room together in the team hotel the night before each game.
“He’s helped me with plays, protections, pregame tests, life, basically everything,” Bredeson said in September. “… He has gone far out of his way to help me, mentally and physically, with the game.”
Braden gives similarly complimentary remarks about Bredeson, who backed him up at left guard before both cracked the starting lineup and who appears to be the future of the offensive line.
“Bredeson’s a good kid,” Braden said. “He works really hard. Smart guy, great attitude, great character. … I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him, and I definitely see myself growing with our friendship even when I’m not here anymore.”
As for the roommate assignment that sparked a particularly close friendship, Bredeson isn’t sure how that came about.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “They just decided to make it confusing and put the two guys with the closest names together.”