As the final days count down until the Michigan football team opens the 2017 season against Florida in the AdvoCare Classic on Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the Daily breaks down each position group for the Wolverines this year. In this edition: offensive line.
After enjoying a sense of stability last season with the return of all but one starting lineman, the Wolverines will face a much more challenging situation in 2017.
With the graduation of Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, Michigan’s front five will have to undergo a significant amount of reshuffling in order to assist a run game also coping with the loss of a dependable veteran in De’Veon Smith. It certainly doesn’t help matters that redshirt sophomore left tackle Grant Newsome will miss the entire season as well, as he continues to recover from his injury suffered against Wisconsin last fall.
Here’s how the group stacks up this year:
Who’s back: Fifth-year senior Patrick Kugler; senior Mason Cole; redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty; redshirt sophomores Jon Runyan and Nolan Ulizio; sophomores Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu, Stephen Spanellis, Anthony Kay, Greg Robinson and Anthony Vastardis.
Who’s not: Magnuson (right tackle), Kalis (right guard) and Braden (left tackle). Fifth-year senior David Dawson, now at Morgan State. Redshirt sophomore Grant Newsome, season-ending knee injury in 2016.
Who’s new: Freshmen Cesar Ruiz, Chuck Filiaga, JaRaymond Hall, Joel Honigford and Andrew Steuber.
Stats in 2016: Cole (center) 13 starts. Bredeson (left guard) 13 games played. Kugler (left guard) one start and (center) four games played.
Contenders: Amid a sea of change, the Wolverines will rely on the solid leadership of team captain Cole and the continued emergence of Bredeson, the two most experienced members on the line.
Cole, who can play all five positions, took on the challenge of replacing former center Graham Glasgow in 2016 and performed impressively. However, in his final season, Cole will make the move back to his original position of left tackle.
After Newsome went down in October, Bredeson was thrust into a starting role at left guard as Braden shifted to Newsome’s spot. While Bredeson struggled at times, he started eight games, which leaves him as the second-most experienced lineman despite his relative youth.
Besides those two, the only other position that seems to have been decided upon is center. Kugler, who chose to return for his final year rather than pursue a graduate transfer, has won over the coaching staff with his thorough knowledge of the system in spite of limited playing time.
Though initially challenged by Ruiz, who enrolled early in January as the No. 1 center prospect in the country, Kugler — a former top-ranked prospect in his own right — seems to have topped the true freshman with his experience. Ruiz, however, figures to be an essential backup this year and may fill the swingman role with his ability to slide along the interior of the line.
The right side, meanwhile, has the least clarity, but multiple players could potentially fill those positions. Onwenu, the eighth-best offensive guard prospect in the nation in 2016, seems to be the frontrunner at right guard. On the outside, a heated fall camp battle has taken place between Bushell-Beatty and Runyan, and neither has seemingly been able to push too far ahead of the other. Cole gave his vote of approval to all three, pointing out that each of them has proven himself capable of taking on a starting role.
With so many moving pieces, creating chemistry between whichever front five takes the field for the Wolverines will be of the utmost importance this season. While Cole and Bredeson likely won’t have much of an issue after playing next to each other last year, the rest of the contenders on the line can’t say the same. How well they mesh together will be a key factor to Michigan’s success in 2017.
Edge/Prediction: From left to right, Cole, Bredeson and Kugler seem set at their positions. While the right side is an entirely different story, the Wolverines seem comfortable with their options. On Monday, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh praised the physicality and athleticism of this group of offensive linemen, a product of both their youth and talent. He also lauded their ability to learn from their mistakes on a practice-by-practice basis, calling them a “locked-in group.”
Onwenu seems to have made enough strides between his freshman and sophomore campaigns to warrant a starting role, as Newsome did a year ago. Choosing between Bushell-Beatty and Runyan is a matter of splitting hairs, but the difference between the two is experience versus athleticism. Runyan is the most athletic lineman on the team according to Harbaugh, and Bushell-Beatty appeared in eight games as a reserve last year. With two veteran and two young linemen already in place, we’ll predict the fate of the line will be entrusted to the most talented member and say Runyan will earn the nod over Bushell-Beatty.