Michigan is struggling this year, in large part, because of its QB play. A mobile QB probably would’ve meant a victory over Toledo and very well could’ve meant victories over Utah and Michigan St. However, the abysmal performance by the offensive line has given Michigan virtually no chance at offensive consistency and has been every bit as damaging as the QB play. I have no doubt that the guys on the line have been working their tails off. I don’t think effort is the issue. This is probably Michigan’s least prepared and/or experienced offensive line in school history. It is also one of the least talented. Lloyd Carr “dropped the ball” in offensive line recruiting over his last few years which has left the current unit short on talent and numbers. Mark Ortmann and Tim McAvoy were lightly regarded three star prospects who were probably never going to see significant minutes—even with Carr’s suspect O-line recruiting—if it weren’t for a litany of personnel losses (Mgoblog details the losses). David Moosman or David Molk probably would’ve started at center this season but I don’t think it was in the plans for both to be starting. Steve Schilling has been–and likely will be—the right tackle. He was a five star recruit coming out of high school and he’ll leave Michigan as a four-year starter. Of Michigan’s five starting O-linemen, two of them were projected to be starting this season as of last year. Throw in an entirely new offensive scheme and you get total disaster. If that wasn’t bad enough, the departures have left virtually no depth chart. Bryant Nowicki—a walk on—has seen game action this year. That is simply unheard of for Michigan football. John Ferrara—a defensive tackle as of August—has seen game action this year. A defensive tackle in August starting at offensive guard in September is simply unheard of for Michigan. The line is bad and the depth is even worse.
The good news is that you’ll likely never see a Michigan offensive line this bad again in your lifetime. I don’t think it’s going to take too long for the line to become a strength. Rich Rodriguez currently has one offensive line commitment in the class of 2009. That recruit is a four star prospect named Michael Schofield. Rodriguez will likely add at least two more linemen by signing day. The most likely commitments will be from Taylor Lewan and Quinton Washington. Both are four star recruits. If things unfold as expected—and Rodriguez is able to secure three OL commitments for ’09—then Michigan will have nine linemen in 2009 with four years of eligibility (six redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen). Talk about going from the garbage can to the penthouse. Michigan will go from a depth chart of zero to one featuring 10+ backups.
Rodriguez has said on numerous occasions that the best players will start at Michigan. His philosophy will be tested next year. I would be shocked if there weren’t at least two players from the group of nine freshmen who are good enough to start. Some may question Rodriguez’s decision to redshirt all six of his O-Line recruits from ’08 but I think it was a great decision. Whether anyone knew it or not, the 2008 season was always going to suck. Nobody knew how dire the QB situation was until Threet and Sheridan stepped on the field against Utah. Once everyone realized what Michigan was dealing with, it made sense to start looking towards 2009 in terms of personnel. Instead of wasting a year of playing time on a few snaps, Rodriguez has banked six seasons of offensive line production. In just one year, the O-line will go from the position of least depth to the one with the most. Expect Michigan’s improvement in the win/loss column from 2008 to 2009 and from 2009 to 2010 to be directly linked to the improvement from the O-Line.
Simply having nine additional linemen for next season will help regardless of how good they are. Fortunately for Michigan, I think they have the chance to be very good. Here are the six players who will be redshirt freshmen next year:
Ricky Barnum: Barnum committed to Florida before switching to Michigan on Signing Day. He will probably start next season at left guard. He was a four star recruit who was rated the #5 center in the country. He has earned rave reviews in practice and has an advantage in the sense that he was actually hand-picked by Rodriguez to play in his offense.
Dann O’Neill: O’Neill was the highest rated lineman in Michigan’s ’08 class. Rivals rated him as the #49 player (any position) in the country. Word out of practice has been that O’Neill started off slow but has really come on as of late. He’ll be in the mix at left tackle.
Elliot Mealer: Mealer was also a four star recruit who was rated in the Rivals 250. His development was hindered by a shoulder injury but he is expected to contribute down the road.
Rocko Khoury: It appears as though Michigan got a steal here based on praise from the coaching staff. Khoury was slated to be the backup center to start the season before the coaches decided to redshirt him. It’ll be interesting to see if he pushes Molk for playing time next season.
Kurt Wermers: Wermers was a highly sought after recruit among Big Ten teams. He pulled in five offers from the Big Ten as well as an offer from UCLA. He has been the least talked about of the six. I’m anxious to see what affect a year of conditioning and practice has done.
Patrick Omameh: Omameh is an example of how hard it is to rate recruits. He only received two stars from Rivals and was no more than an afterthought MAC prospect early in the recruiting process. His stock started to rise significantly as Signing Day approached. Eventually he garnered last minute offers from Michigan St., Michigan, and Ohio St. Omameh is now one of the more promising linemen in the program.
These six players are going to benefit exponentially from being able to practice in Rodriguez’s scheme for over year before ever seeing the field. They will also benefit from a year of training under Mike Barwis. There is no question in my mind that any combination of five of these linemen in ‘09 would form a better unit than Michigan’s 2008 group. Obviously, the ’08 line was put in a rough situation and will be much improved in 2009 as well. The increased numbers will lead to increased competition which will almost certainly lead to increased production.
If I had to guess what Michigan’s opening day O-line will look like in 2009, I’d say there will be two changes. I think Ricky Barnum will start at left guard. I also think Dann O’Neill or Patrick Omameh will start at left tackle. If I had to guess, I would probably go with O’Neill. Molk, Moosman, and Schilling will be given first shot at keeping their jobs. Hopefully, they’ll either be much improved or Rodriguez lives up to his word about playing the best players.
The 2009 starting O-Line could look like this:
LT Dann O’Neill
LG Ricky Barnum
C Dave Molk
RG Dave Moosman
RT Steve Schilling
If that ends up being the line, the depth chart would include Mark Ortmann, Tim McAvoy, Perry Dorrestein, John Ferrara, Mark Huyge, Rocko Khoury, Patrick Omameh, Elliot Mealer, Kurt Wermers, Michael Schofield (almost certainly will redshirt considering the depth), and two other freshman linemen who will likely redshirt.
While 2008 has been a disaster at almost every position, the offensive line should be much better in 2009 and has the potential to be fierce in 2010. Throw in the two dual-threat QBs who are coming in next year and 2009 looks to be a prep year for a monster season in 2010. Hopefully the defense will be improved by then but I’m not sure it will matter. If Michigan isn’t averaging 35 points per game in 2010, then I will be surprised. Rodriguez’s work in progress will be over much quicker than anyone realizes. Go Blue!