Short-handed but not discouraged, Darrell Funk found that the hardest part of his job in 2011 was logistics. With just eight offensive lineman on scholarship — most programs have about 14 — Funk’s graduate assistant, Roy Manning, would joke with Funk that it took him a half hour every day just to figure out the rotations for practice.

He’d sit down and think out all of the scenarios, which grew more complicated when redshirt junior Ricky Barnum went down with an injury. After the starting five, who backed up whom? And in practice, where would the reps go?

“Sleepless nights are kind of a given for an (offensive) line coach,” said Funk, who now must deal with losing his Rimington Trophy winning center, David Molk, and a reliable fifth-year senior in Mark Hugye.

Here come reinforcements.

National Signing Day on Wednesday was good to Funk, who will have four quality recruits — the best class he’s ever had, he said — who will make his job much easier. When Funk coached at Colorado State, he said, he once had a four-man class that featured all four-year starters, and each one spent time in the NFL.

“If you go 4-for-4 with all NFL guys, that’s a good class,” Funk said. “And this class is more talented than that.

“It’s going to be a few years before we get exactly where we want, but I’m telling you, the quality of the kids just got better with these four.”

Targeting size to help along the transition to a pro-style offense, Michigan coach Brady Hoke nabbed Kyle Kalis (305 pounds), Erik Magnuson (275), Blake Bars (275) and Ben Braden (319) — all of them exceed 6-foot-5.

Hoke and Funk recruit lineman with positions in mind they have Magnuson — a consensus four-star recruit — pegged as a left tackle, with his prerequisite athleticism and basketball background. Bars and Braden have tackle-like bodies Funk said, but will slide inside to play guard. Bars is a four-star lineman, Braden a three-star, according to Rivals.com.

During recruiting, Funk told them that a redshirt season wasn’t a guarantee. Hoke’s mantra, the best players are going to play, rings true on the offensive line. If a freshman is in the top two spots in the depth chart, Funk said, he could play immediately. It just might not be at their optimal position.

“For all the guys that I’ve had that have had the chance to go on to the NFL, most of them didn’t finish their career at the same position they got their first start,” Funk said. His hand was forced last season, when Barnum’s injury forced redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield to play at guard for most of the season.

“You ask a kid, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a left tackle, but do you want to start this game at this position?’ or ‘You’re going to be a right guard, but do you want to play backup or do you want to play?’ And usually they say they want to play,” Funk said.

Kalis, who may be the gem of the group, wants to play immediately: He told Funk he wants to be a right tackle, which has a gaping hole with Hugye graduating. Funk obliged, and Kalis will be a right tackle, but the starter’s spot isn’t guaranteed.

Hoke described Kalis as a “powerful, strong, road-grading type of offensive lineman.” The recruiting websites disagreed with each other slightly — Rivals.com pegged Kalis as a five-star recruit, Scout.com had him as a four star.

Funk fondly recalled the first time he spoke with Kalis, who decommitted from Ohio State once Jim Tressel was fired. Funk had to excuse himself from a family dinner at Damon’s in Ann Arbor. He wouldn’t say when exactly they first spoke, other than it was cold outside and “more than seven months ago.”

Funk remembered Kalis knowing Michigan tradition, asking great questions and hitting it off well. Outside the restaurant was a big picture of Jake Long. Funk mentioned it to Kalis, who knew all about the All-American with a mean streak similar to his own.

“He just wants to tear your head off every play,” Funk said. “And we need that. … You can have really good skill positions guys like we have, and that’s important. But at the end of the day, it starts up front.

“It starts with knocking the heck out of the guy across from you. And that’s one thing that Kyle does real well.”

Funk laughed, describing one clip in which Kalis knocked over an umpire “when he was throwing someone around” and couldn’t decide whether to help the man up or find another victim.

On Wednesday, the potential of Kalis and Magnuson stood out, but so did one absence — that of a legitimate center recruit.

For four years, Molk may have been the offensive line’s most indispensable player, providing cohesion and consistency. When he tore a tendon in his foot during warmups before the Sugar Bowl in January, redshirt junior Rocko Khoury stepped in for three disastrous plays.

“I think three bad snaps and an offensive series with negative yardage helped it,” Molk said last week. “I just taped it up, sucked it up and played.”

Though he sounded confident, Funk wasn’t as upbeat when he ran through the successors to replace Molk, all of whom have practiced at center: Khoury, who’ll be a fifth-year senior; Elliot Mealer, the do-everything backup; Barnum, who’s never played center in a game at Michigan but has in practice; and two unheralded youngsters, freshman Jack Miller and redshirt freshman Joey Burzynski.

The lack of a new scholarship freshman in that mix wasn’t due to a lack of trying.

“I’m not saying we didn’t recruit a center,” Funk said. “But with these four (we did sign), these guys are going to play other positions and we’ll — at least for another year — we’ll use the guys that we have in the program to anchor that down.

“We’ll be fine.”

If not, Funk may suffer through many more sleepless nights.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.