Following last season’s relative success, Erik Magnuson was anxious that the Michigan football team would start the 2016 campaign complacent. But about halfway through fall camp, he says he has nothing to worry about.
“It surprised me how hungry everyone still is,” the fifth-year offensive lineman said Wednesday. “I was kinda worried a little bit after last season and we had a little bit of success — maybe some people would take it easy and think they had made it or whatever — but everyone’s kind of been a little bit hungrier, practice has been faster and practice has been more intense than I’ve ever seen.”
Lining up across from an experienced defensive line that’s returning every starter from last season except defensive tackle Willie Henry helps the offensive line stay focused. Add in the nation’s top recruit, freshman defensive end Rashan Gary, and plays from new defensive coordinator Don Brown — a.k.a. “Dr. Blitz” — and it’s no surprise that the offensive line is always on its toes.
Magnuson listed off names of players that are hard to block, saying that there are six or seven guys that are competing for those starting positions.
“I’ve never played against a defensive line or been here with a defensive line that has that many big-time players,” Magnuson said. “I wouldn’t tell them that to their face, but I would go out there and say that our defensive line is going to be one of the best in the country, just off raw talent and their ability to make plays and now the new defensive schemes. It’s great offensively, we go against the best every day.”
Added junior center Mason Cole: “Our defense throws a lot of stuff at us, and just seeing it (has been the biggest challenge). It’s been good because they’ve been challenging me, challenging the whole defensive line and the whole offense. By doing that, they’re just making us so much better.”
To no one’s surprise, Gary has been a contributor from the start. His maturity, both mentally and physically, has stood out in a group of already accomplished defensive lineman.
“It’s very impressive how big he is but yet so quick off the ball, so explosive,” Magnuson said. “He’s a big player … but he’s one of the fastest defensive lineman we have. He has a very high motor, he plays strong. I hadn’t seen a freshman come in and play like him probably since Jabrill, and that’s kind of ironic, they went to the same high school. I’m not sure what’s happening in New Jersey, but they’re very good.”
But the offensive line has benefited from young talent, too. Magnuson and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh both praised 310-pound offensive lineman Ben Bredeson this week. The freshman reminds Magnuson of how Cole looked coming into camp for the first time, citing good coaching in high school as the reason for his football knowledge.
Magnuson doesn’t think the starting line will be decided until about a week before the home opener against Hawaii on Sept. 3, and while it’s not likely that Bredeson will start, he might see game action.
So far, one of the biggest challenges for the offensive line has been reacting to blitzes. It has been a love-hate relationship for the group.
“It’s frustrating,” Magnuson said. “Especially if they (blitz) at the right time, right place, it’s really frustrating because it doesn’t matter what you have going on offensively. It’s great for us because we’re going to see everything in one week of camp against our defensive line that we’ll see in a whole entire season this year.”
While camp won’t wind down until the end of next week, it’s obvious that the high level of competition between units and even within units has reached its highest point in years.
“This is the deepest offensive line since I’ve been here,” Magnuson said. “We have at least 10 guys who could play, so every day I’m fighting. It brings the best out of people.”