At the start of last season, Ben Bredeson sat on the bench.
The Michigan football team’s starting offensive line had already been set: fifth-year seniors Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, junior Mason Cole and sophomore Grant Newsome. Seniors Patrick Kugler and David Dawson and junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty would serve as their backups. It seemed unlikely that Bredeson would see significant playing time.
But at the end of the year, the true freshman was the starting left guard in the Orange Bowl.
After Newsome suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 1 against Wisconsin, the Wolverines had to reshuffle their front five. While Bushell-Beatty filled the open spot, Bredeson also found his way into the starting rotation. Replacing Braden, who had been battling nagging injuries, the freshman was tasked with protecting Wilton Speight’s blind side.
Bredeson started the final seven games of the regular season and the aforementioned bowl game, earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention in the process.
Heading into the 2017-18 season, Bredeson will have no trouble finding playing time. Along with Cole, the rising sophomore is one of two returning from that offensive line.
Though still at the tail end of his freshman year academically, Bredeson is already considered a veteran for a young line. With more knowledge of the system and his place in the program, Bredeson has been able to incorporate the lessons he learned on game days into his practice habits. Understanding what he called “the tricks of the trade” has been a key part of his development into a reliable starter.
Passing on those pieces of wisdom has been one of his priorities this spring. Michigan has a number of young offensive lineman working their way into contention — namely rising sophomore Michael Onwenu and freshman Cesar Ruiz, the No. 1 center in the 2017 recruiting class — and he bears a large responsibility in guiding them through their development as well.
“We’re just making sure we’re 100 percent on everything,” Bredeson said. “We want no issues coming up in the fall. We want everybody to know exactly what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it … so everyone’s clear on what their assignments are no matter what situation we’re in.
“I’m a big fan of it. Things are very, very clear this spring, and I think it’s going to pay off in the fall.”
A major part of the growth from the offensive line unit will likely stem from the addition of former offensive line coach Greg Frey, who rejoined the Wolverines in January after a six-year stint at Indiana. Frey previously worked on the sidelines from 2008-2010 with former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, and he is now slated to be the offensive tackles/tight ends coach.
A former offensive lineman himself during his playing days, Frey has already left a positive imprint on the Wolverines.
“He brings a lot of fire, heck of a coach,” Bredeson said. “I’ve only worked with him for a month or two now, and he definitely knows what he’s talking about. … He knows what needs to happen so he’ll chip in and help out with us and give us some tips on what he did to be successful, so it definitely helps a lot having him around.”
Teaming up with offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who also serves as an offensive line coach, Frey has been able to bring his own perspective into the mix in the meeting room.
“You’ve got two coaches that are at the highest level,” Bredeson said. “They know what they’re doing, and being able to have more minds working on a problem is definitely beneficial for us. … Coach Drevno does a great job, but with the addition of Coach Frey, it can only go up.”
Though Bredeson primarily played at left guard last season — he came to Michigan as the No. 1 offensive guard in the country — he also has a wealth of experience at the adjacent line position. He joined the Wolverines as the fourth-best offensive tackle in the nation as well.
As for which position he has focused his attention on so far in spring practice, Bredeson instead preached the importance of versatility for himself and his team. His overall goal is to be a viable option at all five spots on the line.
“We’re always moving around. We’re always getting everybody to play all five spots,” Bredeson said. “The more versatility you have, the better, so that’s what we’re always working on.
“If injuries did occur, you can just plug somebody in and keep the five best guys on the field.”
Bredeson would know that better than anyone.