Nothing makes Michigan coach Lloyd Carr come out of his shell more than a chance to talk about his big uglies.

“We’re gonna have a line – a Michigan line,” said Carr, with noted emphasis on the word “Michigan.”

So what exactly does it mean to have a “Michigan line?” Judging by Carr’s sudden burst of enthusiasm, it must be more than just five huge guys wearing maize and blue.

“It’s a strong, physical, powerful line,” Carr said. “I like it. I like it. Now, I might not like them tomorrow. But I like them today.”

Falling out of Carr’s favor should be tough for this group, though. Six Wolverines with significant playing experience return to the fold, including first-team All-Big Ten performers junior David Baas and senior Tony Pape, making the 2003 line the most formidable unit since 2000, when Jeff Backus and Steve Hutchinson manned the trenches.

Last season’s group gave up just 22 sacks in 13 games, compared to 30 in 2001, benefiting from a more mobile and experienced John Navarre behind center. The Michigan running game finished eighth in the Big Ten in yardage, but except for a mid-year slump against Purdue and Iowa, running backs Chris Perry and B.J. Askew were able to find holes and move the chains.

Carr already knows who will fill four out of five starting spots, barring any unforeseen circumstances: Sophomore Adam Stenavich at left tackle, Baas at left guard, senior Dave Pearson at center and Pape at right tackle. Sophomore Matt Lentz, who alternated with Dave Petruziello last season and is known as the strongest player on the Michigan roster, is battling with classmate Leo Henige for the starting nod at right guard in spring drills.

“Both (Lentz and Henige) are going to be good players, but Leo Henige has really made some strides,” Carr said. “Henige is a guy that’s got excellent movement.”

Carr couldn’t control his excitement when discussing Baas, who emerged as Michigan’s most dependable lineman last season.

“What I like about Baas is he’s better today than he was nine practices ago,” Carr said. “He’s a great athlete when he pulls. He’s not just a guy who can knock you off the ball in front of you. He’s so agile that he gets up into the seams and finds a linebacker.”

Carr’s main concern with the line in spring practice has been developing more depth to back up his proven performers. Senior Courtney Morgan, who alternated with Stenavich at left tackle last season, is currently working at guard. Junior Andy Christophel and redshirt freshman Mark Bihl are pushing for time at center. Senior Demeterius Solomon and redshirt freshman Rueben Riley are also in the mix for a backup role.

IS THE SAFETY ON?: While Michigan fans have been anxiously waiting for redshirt sophomore Ernest Shazor to earn a starting spot at safety, Carr said there is no guarantee that the waiting will end when Michigan opens its season Aug. 30 against Central Michigan.

“Ernest is involved in a real battle at that position,” Carr said. “I think it’s very tight. We’ll have to see how we finish there.”

Shazor, ranked as the No. 1 safety coming out of high school by numerous recruiting magazines, is competing with senior Jon Shaw, sophomore Jacob Stewart and redshirt freshman Willis Barringer.

Barringer, who switched from cornerback in the fall, has “made a move” at safety thus far in spring practice.

“He’s had a great spring for a young freshman,” Carr said. “I’m very pleased with where he is.”

Shazor and Shaw have the most experience at safety, as both filled in last season during Julius Curry and Cato June’s injuries. Of course, the Wolverines have two of the top safety recruits in the country, Ryan Mundy and Prescott Burgess, joining the group in the fall. But will they make a push for playing time with such limited experience?

“I can’t answer that,” Carr said. “Physically, there are a lot of guys who are capable of competing. It comes down to how quickly they can grasp what we’re doing. We’ll find out.”

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