If you were doing your best to throw off the communication of an offensive line by playing music, your first choice probably wouldn’t be anything “clean-cut.”
Yet, if you believe fifth-year senior center Ricky Barnum, that’s exactly the kind of music the Michigan coaches are blasting to help the line and team as a whole to prepare for dealing with noise.
Despite Barmun’s comments, the actual music is something a bit more raucous — Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that on Tuesday, for example, AC/DC was played at the Wolverines’ practice.
But the larger point lies in the fact that the staff is doing something to prepare for the conditions in the season’s first game against defending-champion Alabama, a game that will be played in an undoutedly loud Cowboys Stadium.
Michigan picked up experience in a similar situation playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at the Sugar Bowl in January, but Hoke has continued to do his best to simulate the loud conditions during camp so the atmosphere for the fast-approaching Cowboys Classic won’t hit the players as much of a shock.
In addition, the Wolverines will be practicing at the Ford Field in Detroit on Wednesday night, where the domed ceiling will help to acclimate them.
Offensively, nowhere is communication more important than on the line. To that end, Barnum said that speakers have been placed directly behind the unit that he anchors.
“It’s helping us to communicate better and hear each other’s calls, because it’s going to be loud down in Dallas,” Barnum. “We’ve got to be prepared for it.”
Barnum will have to be even more prepared than his linemates. As the center, the entire line’s calls originate from his initial appraisal of the defense — if the guards and tackles can’t hear what he’s saying, missed assignments are much more likely.
Another potential concern is Barnum’s inexperience at the position. He’s played center before in his Michigan career, but all of his game experience has come at either tackle or guard. (He made three starts at the latter last season.)
But Barnum was emphatic, saying the transition back to center full-time hasn’t been difficult, pointing to the leadership of former Michigan center David Molk — now with the San Diego Chargers — who visited the team this summer and helped Barnum, his heir apparent. Barnum also affirmed that the snapping problems he had during the Michigan spring game are behind them, claiming he hasn’t had a single fumbled exchange in all of fall camp.
While Barnum has been a steady force, it appears the rest of the line may be coming together as a unit, too. Hoke was pleased with the physicality that the offensive line corps — as well as other parts of the team — showed in the team’s scrimmage on Saturday, an area in which he had previously expressed concern during Michigan’s camp.
And Hoke revealed that fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer has begun to separate himself at left guard, where he has been battling redshirt sophomore Joey Burzynski, and that if Michigan was playing right now, Mealer would “be the guy.” Though Hoke said that offensive line coach Darrell Funk has been shuffling players around to get the best combination for the line, left guard had really been the only unsettled spot.
“I think (Mealer)’s playing faster, I think he’s playing with a better technique,” Hoke said. “I think when you look at pad level and those things, and he’s finishing things better. I really believe it’s more confidence. He’s got his confidence level at a high level.”
Burzynski and freshman Kyle Kalis continue to push Mealer, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Wolverines if Mealer continued to strengthen his hold on the job.
That would mean continuity for a line that is “just now jelling together, building together,” and “doing a lot of things that the coaches like,” in Barnum’s words. And the center knows how much stronger the offense will be when the offensive line is established and finally rounds into form.
“Offense is all about working as a unit, it’s all about working together,” Barnum said. “That’s the key to everything, When you have five offensive linemen, that you know who’s your left guard, you know who’s your right guard, you know who your right tackle and left tackle’s going to be, you kind of form a unity there. That’s what offensive line is all about.”