Michigan’s offensive line was one of the most talked-about units during the preseason, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to the linemen themselves. Ask them about the accolades – guard David Baas and tackle Tony Pape are All-American candidates and Dave Pearson is considered one of the best centers in the nation – and you’ll almost certainly hear the company line: “We’re just trying to do our jobs.” Once the linemen step onto the gridiron … they’re not any more cocky.
“I don’t talk on the field, I just let my play out there do the talking,” Baas said. “We like to show everybody through our performance. Talk’s nothing if you can’t walk the walk.”
But even with their humility and workman-like approach, Michigan’s “Big Uglies” are by no means big softies.
“I think we’ve got a little bit of a mean streak,” Pearson said. “We expect to do really well, so we go out there, and we expect to be able to run over the opposing defensive line, and we expect to be able to protect (quarterback John Navarre) against any pass rusher.”
There’s a lot more experience and a little different attitude among the linemen this season.
At this time last season, there were questions surrounding the line’s youth and who would fill which roles. The 2002 line eventually formed into a reliable unit that allowed just 22 sacks in 13 games. Michigan returns three every-game starters to the line – Baas, Pearson and Pape – and guard Matt Lentz and tackle Adam Stenavich have considerable experience. And Stenavich said the offensive linemen have become “a very close” group.
“They’ve got a year under their belts, and they’ve had spring ball (and) they’ve had a chance to get closer over the summer,” Navarre said. “Those guys, if they continue to gel, they can be as good as they want to be.”
One thing the group wants to improve on is run blocking. Despite having talented backs Chris Perry and B.J. Askew last season, Michigan finished eighth in the Big Ten in rushing.
“We want to do a much better job running the ball this year,” Pearson said. “We want to protect John, but we want to make sure we have a much better running game and open some things up back there for him. So I think that’s the main goal right now.”
The linemen don’t get as much recognition as the position players, but when Michigan’s offense is rolling the line is often a big reason why.
“They’re really the backbone of the team, because if you’ve got a great line you’ve got a chance to make some things happen, and I like this group,” coach Lloyd Carr said.
Pearson likes the group, too, and said he thinks it should be the top line in the Big Ten.
“Our expectations are always to be the best,” he said. “That’s why you come to Michigan – to be the best – so that’s definitely what our expectations are.”