ANN ARBOR, Mich — Michigan’s struggles along the offensive line a year ago are no secret, and the word coming out of fall camp is that there’s been an immense improvement under new OL coach Ed Warinner, who has a track record of fielding elite lines at various stops.
But, no matter which way you spin it, the OL will only go as far as the man in the middle.
The Wolverines are in a good place in that spot, with Cesar Ruiz shifting back to center from right guard, where he got several starts towards the end of the season last year.
Ruiz was the top-rated center in the 2017 class, and it’s his natural position. It’s where he’s used to playing, as that’s where he’s played his whole life. He’s also used to hiking the ball to Michigan starting quarterback Shea Patterson, as the two played together at IMG Academy in high school.
Now that he’s back to center, Ruiz is feeling more an more comfortable, and the role is fitting him like an old glove.
“(Playing center is) something I’ve been doing my whole life,” Ruiz said. “In high school, I’m used to making all the calls, I’m used to doing everything. Taking this role now, it’s a bit of a step up. But, I love it!”
Making the calls, adjusting the protection schemes and being a vocal leader are all pivotal components that come with the position. Like the middle linebacker or free safety on the defensive side of the ball, it’s Ruiz’s job to take charge and make sure the players around him are where they’re supposed to be.
It could be quite daunting for someone who isn’t used to being in that position, or someone who’s a bit more timid with that style of leadership. However, for Ruiz, it’s natural.
“I’m very comfortable with it,” Ruiz said. “I don’t have a voice right now – I’ve been yelling all day! Me, I’m pretty vocal on the field. I have to make a lot of calls. I have to communicate, because if I don’t, we can’t function. I love that role. I love being a vocal guy. I love being able to communicate and lead things.”
Losing his voice is emblematic of the responsibilities that Ruiz now has. But it’s not all just about making sure that everyone’s on the same page.
“A lot of this is for the line of scrimmage,” Ruiz continued. “I do extra – I can be vocal sometimes. Most of it’s from making calls and doing everything else. Other thing is just being loud and having fun on the field.”
And because of where he is, unquestionably atop the depth chart at the position, Ruiz has had to grow up in a hurry.
It’s not actually optimal in most cases to have underclassmen as your starting offensive linemen. Each position requires a wealth of knowledge that can’t be taught overnight, and it helps to have years of college-level strength and conditioning under the belt.
Thus, being a second-year player, Ruiz has had to grow up in a hurry.
He arrived in Ann Arbor back in January 2017 as a green 17 year old. He notes that he’s 19 now, and while he feels kind of like a grizzled veteran, he knows he still has a ways to go before that’s an actual reality.
However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t taking the responsibility to grow up in a hurry seriously. Because, despite his lack of years in the system, the OL is depending on him to be older and wiser than his actual years.
“It’s been a serious role for me to be a leader on the offensive line,” Ruiz said. “The thing is, I’m so young, I’m not the only leader on the offensive line. But, I have to step up to the plate and take a bigger role than a younger guy really would, being though as I’m the center. I have to be able to communicate a lot of things, recognize a lot of things. I have to be able to do things that – I have to make veteran decisions. I have to be able to think like an older person. I have to be able to do a lot of things like that.
“Having Ben Bredeson next to me makes it a lot better – somebody who’s been doing it for awhile. It just makes my job a lot of fun, a lot more fun.”