After a dismal performance in 2013, the Michigan Wolverines had to make a change or two to an offense that rarely saw success. One of those changes was brought on by Brady Hoke when he fired offensive coordinator Al Borges and eventually replaced him with Doug Nussmeier, who served as Alabama‘s offensive coordinator for the 2013-14 season. Michigan’s largest hindrance last year was a dreadful offensive line that played nine players through its starting nine positions, and that unit waved goodbye to NFL tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Despite those losses, however, there is reason to be optimistic for Michigan’s offensive line this season.
One of the main reasons why Michigan had such a difficult time generating positive things from the offensive line was how complex the schemes were. Hoke has made it clear since day one that he wants his team to pound the ball down the throat of the defense, but Borges often times tried getting too cute with the play-calling and ended up hurting the offense. Yes, the offensive line looked very bad for almost the entire season, but to be completely fair in criticism, were they given much of a chance to be successful?
Nussmeier steps in as a guy who truly does want to run the ball first — and maybe even second, too. And part of his mindset when it comes to running the ball is simplifying things up front. As a result, “A-list” plays are being pounded into the brains of the offensive linemen. These are the plays they’ll be running at any given time against any given opponent. Think of it as “Motion I” for a youth basketball team.
Players and coaches are buying into this simpler approach, as you might naturally assume. It’s bigger than simply having the back of the man in charge; it’s about seeing common visions in the offense and having a plan to accomplish it.
It’s one thing to talk scheme and strategy, but it’s another to actually put it into action. The personnel has to be there. And despite losing Lewan and Schofield, two very productive tackles, the offensive line isn’t as bad of shape as you would expect. Because of Nussmeier and line coach Darrell Funk, opportunities are ready to be snatched.
A few injuries and a suspension hindered individual progress in the spring, but Hoke and his staff still insisted at press conferences that the offensive line took strides as a unit. Guard/center Erik Magnuson, an expected starter this season, missed all of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he will be back in time for the start of the season. Guard Joey Burzynski‘s recovery is still in the works after tearing an ACL in October of last season. He will hopefully be ready to go by fall, but there’s no telling if he’ll be completely healthy.
Once those two are back in full swing for Michigan, the offensive line should really start to gel and become more of a positive note for this team. There are options all over the place for Funk to work with, including many guys who can successfully fill holes at multiple positions. One player to keep an eye on this season is true freshman Mason Cole, who enrolled early at Michigan and received praise from the staff and teammates for his immediate impact on the field. It’s unlikely he’ll be put in a starting role this season, but he could very likely become a consistent contributor.
If Michigan’s offense is going to take strides this season and climb its way out of last year’s hole, which was dug out by a poor offensive line and questionable play-calling, the Wolverines are in good position to stay competitive in the Big 10 and start marching back to the position in which they believe they belong.