Though all eyes in Ann Arbor will likely fall onto the quarterback — whether it be Shea Patterson or Brandon Peters under center — arguably more important to Michigan’s success in 2018 is the performance of the offensive line.
Pass protection was a glaring weakness for the Wolverines in 2017, as quarterbacks had to rush through their progressions and hurry throws throughout the season.
As injuries prevailed at QB, the next man went up, and the same problem persisted.
All offseason, we heard from the Michigan offensive line that they were tired of being the butt of the team. They were tired of hearing about how much they got pushed around. So, they did something about it.
Ed Warinner, who built the great Ohio State offensive lines a few years back, was brought in, as was strength coach Ben Herbert, who built a team of monsters down in Fayetteville, Arkansas. But still — the onus was on the players to buy in and get the results they’re looking for.
According to third-year left guard Ben Bredeson, that’s precisely what the O-line did, and it’s paying early dividends through one week of fall camp.
“Huge strides this fall,” Bredeson said. “All the work that we’ve put in all summer, just doing player-run O-line workouts, and then all the summer conditioning, all the summer weight training. We’re just seeing a lot of great results out there.”
It’s a combination of factors at work, Bredeson says.
It’s not just the bulking and strength building under Herbert. It’s not just the simplification of the offensive line schema. But those things in conjunction have met a new buzzword — camaraderie — to help fix the issues that plagued the front in recent years.
Of course, Bredeson isn’t talking about camaraderie in the familiar sense, like a couple of friends getting beers in their backyard. It’s more like — think back more than a decade — when Michigan lined up All-American left tackle Jake Long next to left guard Adam Kraus. No one was getting by those guys, because they both knew each other’s tics and how to move with one another.
With all of the rotating the O-linemen have doing, now, regardless of who wins the left tackle job — or the right tackle or right guard spot — whoever is next to Bredeson and Cesar Ruiz (perhaps the only two cemented starters as of now) will be able to work in tandem and conjunction with the players next to them.
Bredeson says that the simplification and strength gains have been massive, but the OL camaraderie has been just as important.
“I’d go with both of those reasons, and the third is team camaraderie we have, specifically on the O-line as well,” Bredeson said. “As you guys know, a lot of us who have played last year, we had a lot of guys rotate through last year. A lot of guys got playing time. And with the systems that both Coach Drevno ran last year and that Coach Warinner is running this year, you’ve got a lot of different combinations in there with guys working next to different guys. So, that’s always helped.
“Over the summer, we were working all of the time, and doing that same thing. A lot of guys in and out. The camaraderie is huge. We refer to ourselves as the coolest position group on the team! The most fun position group on the team. We all love each other. We all have a great time. That just adds to everything.
“And then, going off of what Coach Herbert’s done this summer, if you look across the board, everyone looks just a lot better. Looks a lot stronger. And I think the biggest strides were with the O-line, personally. We really bought into that. We really made a lot of great efforts.
“And then, with Coach Warinner, simplifying everything. You know, he’s an excellent teacher. When we go up to meetings, he simplifies the offense. Tells us what we need to do, what we need to look for. Just explains it real well. There’s no issues with it.”
Bredeson explained further, saying that it wasn’t that the guys didn’t get along a year ago. But the understanding that exists now is what has helped the unit get so much better this offseason.
“I wouldn’t say a huge problem (last year),” Bredeson said. “From a personality standpoint, we all fit in really well together. There’s no outcasts, you know, not anything like that. Sometimes it’s just playing next to somebody – is different than knowing a guy. Some play (a little different than others) so, it takes a certain number of reps I feel. And we definitely have that now. From last year to spring ball to now, I feel a lot better with it.”
A year ago, the left side of the OL was solid, with now-Arizona Cardinal Mason Cole and Bredeson anchoring the weak-side. While that may have been the case, Bredeson says that the team didn’t single out the right side as being the problem area.
Instead, a more holistic approach was taken — and one that emphasized: if one of us fails, we’ve all failed.
That approach has helped the unit come together that much more as a team this offseason, as they’re that much more willing to pick each other up.
Again — the camaraderie is strong. And the OL is hoping that with all of that in mind, the unit will go from a position of weakness to one of strength in just one offseason.
“No, we didn’t address one side of the line or the other,” Bredeson said. “If one guy gives up a sack, it’s the O-line’s fault. We don’t pick sides on that. We’ve got to fix the problem. We worked all summer on it. We worked all spring on it. And I think we’re ready to go.”