With all five starters returning from last season, it was expected that the Michigan football team’s offensive line would improve in 2015. But after only marginally improving last season in a similar situation, the question was how much improvement would show up on the field.
The quintet of sophomore Mason Cole, senior Graham Glasgow, juniors Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson wanted to make sure they answered that question quickly, and for the most part they’ve done so.
Thanks to extra reps, strong camaraderie and even some yoga, the offensive line is in the top 10 in protecting its quarterback.
“They’re playing more physical and they’re finishing,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “They’re really making an effort to finish right now. So, all five of those guys. What’s helping our running game right now is them and the contribution by the backs, but also the receivers.”
After finishing at the bottom of the Big Ten and the nation with 63 sacks and 184 tackles for loss allowed the past two seasons, the Wolverines have shown night-and-day improvement.
Just five teams have given up fewer than Michigan’s eight tackles for loss. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have allowed just one sack against opponents that averaged a combined 2.92 sacks per game in 2014, a stat that stands as tall as the linemen do.
“They’ve gotten a lot better,” said redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Mo Hurst. “We see it every day, how much better they’ve gotten — we’ve all talked about it. It’s good for us too, because if you’re going against a good O-line every week it improves your game because everything you do is tougher.”
Added fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock: “It’s been really good, it’s as simple as that. Our guys are doing a really good job of keeping people off me … that’s all you can ask for.”
Some of that can be attributed to experience, and some of it can be attributed to offensive line coach Tim Drevno — fresh off successful stints with the San Francisco 49ers and USC — coming in to help. But for Braden, the key has come outside of practice.
“All the work we’ve done outside of practice on our own, I really think that’s starting to pay off now,” Braden said Monday. “After practice we’ll get together, take a space with the O-line and practice technique. Talk about any questions we had during practice, or talk about a look we were confused with.”
In addition to the reflection and technique work, the line has become tighter-knit than in recent years. Eating, studying and even doing yoga together to improve flexibility, the five are nearly inseparable.
“The camaraderie between them, they’re such a close group,” Hurst said. “They’re always hanging out, they’re always together, doing everything together.
“That’s how our team has been lately. Everyone has such a close group, and that’s huge.”
Though Braden noted that the group has yet to try hot yoga together, he’s pleased with the results on the field. The line will face a tougher test against No. 22 BYU, but after improved run blocking resulted in 479 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games, Michigan seems to once again have an offensive line with teeth to it.
“All of us sticking together and making that goal, I think that was something we really took to heart,” Braden said. “I think the aspect of us coming together, even since fall camp started, I think was huge for us in improvement in pass pro and the run game.”