A position ravaged by departures and lack of experience in 2020 will have two starting spots to fill this fall, but plenty of options to choose from.
Michigan’s offensive line is expected to return a starter on the tackle and two on guard, but will be tasked with developing a second tackle and identifying a center starter to help break the ball.
That process started in earnest this week, with the Wolverines’ spring training kicking off Monday in Ann Arbor with a revamped coaching staff. The offseason changes by Jim Harbaugh will have a profound effect on the line, which is now coached by former tight ends coach Sherrone Moore – tasked with replacing Ed Warinner, who chaired the players up front during the three last seasons.
While Warinner was never praised for his recruiting accolades, he was an excellent talent developer and had coordination skills to help lead an offense. Moore, although he never coached the position, was a goalie during his playing days in Oklahoma. The 35-year-old is also considered one of Michigan’s top recruiters, which should translate into more elite-level talent coming in.
Before we dive into more detail with the offensive line, here’s an offseason reset of the situation …
Departure : Zach Carpenter (transfer), Jalen Mayfield (declared for NFL Draft)
Back : Karsen Barnhart (tackle), Trente Jones (tackle), Nolan Rumler (guard / center), Noah Stewart (tackle), Zak Zinter (guard), Chuck Filiaga (guard), Jack Stewart (tackle), Andrew Stueber (tackle / guard ), Reece Atteberry (center), Ryan Hayes (tackle), Trevor Keegan (guard), Jeffrey Persi (tackle)
From: Willie Allen (graduates transfer / tackle), Raheem Anderson (tackle), Tristan Bounds (tackle), Greg Crippen (center), Giovanni El-Hadi (tackle)
For subscribers: Scenarios to watch as MU football kicks off spring training
Michigan have big shoes to fill with the departure of Jalen Mayfield, but have an abundance of tackles on the roster. Look for Willie Allen, a transfer graduate from Louisiana Tech and / or Karsen Barnhart to step in and fill this vacancy against Ryan Hayes, who started most of the 2020 season abbreviated on the left tackle.
Allen is an intriguing piece here. The 6-foot-6, 343-pound transfer is eligible immediately and on campus now, giving him plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to the Michigan program. With his size, I wouldn’t be surprised if coaches move him indoors to keep.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are sending the two starters back to custody from a season ago, and both are season veterans who have been on the program for some time now. Chuck Filiaga and Andrew Stueber performed their roles relatively well last fall; Steueber especially, after recovering from a year off following an ACL tear. Both will be fifth year seniors and are expected to contribute a lot. Stueber has the option to come out to tackle if necessary.
The center is relatively thin after Zach Carpenter’s offseason departure and the alleged departure of fifth-year senior Andrew Vastardis (there has been no official word on him), but look for Redshirt rookie Reece Atteberry to get the ‘call after impressing as a rookie in the Boy Scout team. Still, a feeling process will be needed here, especially with some expected competition at the quarterback position.
Improvement is a must for Michigan’s offensive line in 2021. Last year, the Wolverines running game ranked 95th nationally and 11th in the Big Ten for rushing yards per game (131, 5), often making the offensive one-dimensional and predictable. While it certainly doesn’t fall exclusively on the offensive line, the group certainly does play a role.
Meanwhile, protection concerns were largely absent, with Michigan allowing just eight sacks in six games, an average of 1.33 sacks per game that tied them for 19th nationally. It’s a reflection of a solid game of tackles and tight ends, a group that remains experienced despite the departure of Mayfield.
And with Moore now on board and Michigan adding Mike Hart as running backs coach, look for offense to reconfigure some things up front. The two coaches will likely work in tandem with Jay Harbaugh, the former running backs coach who moved to his old position as tight ends coach.
So, while Michigan is losing its best offensive lineman (Mayfield) and possibly its center starter (Carpenter), there is good tackling depth and options to make this thing work. The key will be to install Atteberry and make the group work as a cohesive unit, which can be a challenge with new additions. But an early start to spring and a full offseason should help, making Michigan’s offensive line a potential force this fall.
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