The Curious Case of the Michigan Offensive Line

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

Before I jump right into this, I wanted to start with a bit of an introduction to my background. I played football for 10 years, from 3rd grade all the way through high school. I had a few offers to play college ball at D3 or D2 schools, but I (perhaps stupidly) chose to not continue my football career. For each and every one of those 10 years, I played offensive line (and linebacker, but that’s irrelevant right now). The reason I’m telling you this isn’t because I’m reliving my glory days here, but to sort of let you all know that offensive line play, in particular the play of the center and left tackle, is near and dear to my heart. I watch the offensive line more than I watch any other position, and last season’s debacle on the line cut me deep.

Follow me through the jump to hear my thoughts on the current state of the Michigan offensive line, and how I think it’ll all shake out come August 31st…

Okay. I’m going to break this post into a few parts…who I think will start along the line in 2014, what their individual strengths and weaknesses are, and how I think it’ll all shake out–production-wise.

The Starters

Obviously, the offensive line will employ five starters. In many cases, you’ll see a full two-deep at each position, with cohesiveness being a huge factor to overall success. In Michigan’s case, Brady Hoke has had a “next man up” scheme going, rather than a traditional two-deep. What I mean is that rather than having an individual backup at each spot, Hoke likes to have a “6th lineman”, so to speak, who is the first guy into the game in any spot (save Center, usually) in case of injury. With that being said, I expect the starters along the line to look something like this:

Left Tackle: Erik Magnuson
Left Guard: Kyle Bosch
Center: Graham Glasgow
Right Guard: Kyle Kalis
Right Tackle: Ben Braden
6th Man: David Dawson

Now, obviously, a few caveats apply here. Glasgow is suspended for the season opener, so you could see either Jack Miller or Patrick Kugler get the start against Appalachian State. There is also the possibility of Chad Lindsay, a transfer from Alabama, choosing Michigan as his destination for his 5th year of eligibility. In that case, I think Lindsay starts at Center, while Glasgow slides to left guard. I think Glasgow is one of the better offensive lineman on the team, as it sits right now. He can play center (kinda), either guard, or even right tackle. It’s my wildest fantasy for Lindsay to come to Michigan to play center, and allow Glasgow to play a guard. I believe that would make the team stronger. Dawson has the ability to play either guard or either tackle, although I don’t think he’s very well suited for left tackle. True freshman Mason Cole started the Spring Game at left tackle, and while I think he has a high ceiling at guard, if he starts this season, that’s bad news.

Strengths/Weaknesses

Erik Magnuson, Left Tackle

Magnuson, listed at 6’6″ 295 pounds, possesses adequate size to play the left tackle spot, although I’d like to see him add 10-15 pounds of muscle. He has good knee bend, solid feet/footwork, and solid quickness/athleticism. He lacks truly elite athleticism (Taylor Lewan), and doesn’t have the strength/mass to be a plus run blocker. I think he’s a slightly above-average left tackle at present, with the potential to become plus there in time. If he’s Michigan’s starting left tackle in 2014, he should do pretty well there.

Kyle Bosch, Left Guard

Bosch is listed at 6’5″ 301 pounds on the official roster, which is solid size for his position. Generally speaking, you want the left side of your offensive line to be more athletic than the right side, as 1) it’s usually the blind side of the quarterback, and 2) most teams are right-handed in their running attacks, meaning that they run right more than left, which requires the left side linemen to pull more often than the right side. Bosch plays with a nasty streak, which is evident on his high school film, as well (in spurts) on his game film from last season. He’s also a good athlete, though not athletic enough to play tackle in my opinion. Most of the issues from last season, in my opinion, were due to him being a true freshman playing in an overly-complicated offensive system. He should be much better in year 2, although he’ll still have issues at times. Technique-wise, there’s not a lot to dislike with Bosch. As I said, I think most of his problems were missed assignments (freshman!), not technique problems.

Graham Glasgow, Center

As I said above, I think Glasgow is one of the better offensive lineman on the roster right now. He doesn’t have the raw tools of others; nor does he have the true ceiling of others, but I think that he’s the most consistent lineman on the roster currently. He’s listed at 6’6″ 308 pounds on the roster, which is a little tall for a typical center. Last season he had several problems with snapping the football, but those seemed to be corrected as the season wore on. He came to Michigan as a walk-on, someone who possessed size and athleticism but without any real idea how to play football. Now that he’s entering his 4th year in college football, we’re seeing the dividends that work ethic+raw talent+coaching can have. I really, really wish that he was playing guard, but I digress, as he’s the best option at center right now unless Patrick Kugler can take a step forward after recovering from injuries. I’ve said many times that I think Glasgow is pretty good, and I understand that my opinion is not a popular one. Just putting it out there.

Kyle Kalis, Right Guard

I honestly can’t remember an offensive lineman coming to Michigan with the kind of hype that Kalis garnered. He was supposed to be the next Steve Hutchinson, or better, and it was all but assured that he would start as a true freshman. As we know, none of that happened (yet), and as of this moment, while penciled in as the starter at right guard, Kalis is an average offensive lineman. He has the most potential/upside of any lineman on the roster, but, and this is an understatement, Michigan desperately needs him to take a huge step forward in 2014. He’s listed at 6’5″ 304 pounds, so he possesses the requisite size to play the position, although 10 more pounds of muscle wouldn’t hurt. I think some of Kalis’ problems in 2013 were due to the offensive scheme, which, early in the season, was focused on zone stretch-types of running plays. I don’t think Kalis has the foot speed to be good in those schemes, and you saw his play pick up towards the end of the season when Michigan went to more of an inside zone scheme. He has size, he has strength, he has technique, and he has (enough) athleticism. He’s nasty blocker, displays an elite first punch, and his drive-blocking is off the charts (in my view). I’ll have more on him later in the post.

Ben Braden, Right Tackle

“He’s the most physically gifted individual I’ve ever seen in my life…genetically, he’s a freak…” – Taylor Lewan on Ben Braden. We all know the feel-good story of how Braden was a stud hockey player, even at his size, and how his freak athleticism will translate to the offensive line and blah blah blah. Listed at 6’6″ 319 pounds, Braden is obviously massive. How will that translate to (presumed) full time duty at right tackle? Pretty well, in my view. Despite his athleticism, Braden has always been viewed as a much better run blocker than pass blocker. He’s able to play low despite his size, and can be overpowering when run blocking. Hopefully, and I say this with some confidence, he has taken well to coaching and won’t be a liability in pass protection. He’s easily the lineman I’m most wary of. Not because I don’t think he’s good, but because I just don’t know what to expect.

David Dawson, “6th Man”

Dawson was playing left tackle in the Spring Game, which I believe was due to pure necessity rather than skill set or fit. He looks like a guard all the way to me, although he could conceivably play right tackle if need be. Listed at 6’4″ 295, I think he’s too short to play on the blindside, and probably doesn’t have the mass to play right tackle at the moment. In my opinion, his best fit right now is left guard. At the end of spring practice, Dawson seemed to be the “hot commodity”, which is why I’m penciling him in as the “6th man” right now. Strangely, I think he’s a better pass blocker than run blocker at the moment. While he doesn’t have the athleticism or quickness (or size) to play left tackle, I think his kick step is advanced and good, and he does do a good job of staying in front of his opponent, and also has good hands.

Way-Too-Early Prognostication

I’m going to do this in 2 sections, 1 being if Michigan lands Chad Lindsay, 2 being if they do not.

With Lindsay:

-Michigan starts (from L-R) Magnuson, Glasgow, Lindsay, Kalis, and Braden along the line. Kyle Bosch becomes the primary backup at either guard spot, and Glasgow would slide to center in the event of a Lindsay injury. David Dawson becomes the backup at either tackle spot.

-Assuming full health, Michigan takes a step forward on the offensive line in 2014. A new, simplified scheme from Doug Nussmeier makes things easier for everyone involved, and the input of this new scheme will lead to…

-Kyle Kalis takes a giant leap forward. As I said above, Kalis’ main issue in 2013 was playing in a scheme not suited well to his skill set. In a more drive-blocking scheme, Kalis will thrive.

-Devin Gardner doesn’t die.

-The running game will not be an area of particular strength, but it won’t be a downright embarrassment as it was in 2013 (Obviously, the development of Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith will help this as well)

Without Lindsay

-Michigan starts (from L-R) Magnuson, Bosch, Glasgow, Kalis, Braden. Ideally, Kugler would seize the center job by the balls and not let go, allowing Glasgow to play guard, but I digress. In this scenario, if there is an injury to a guard, I think either Dawson will be the primary backup, OR, Glasgow slides to a guard and Miller/Kugler take over at center. Dawson will also backup at either tackle, which would put him in the true “6th man” role. I’d love to see Chris Fox step up and prove to be an option at tackle, but his injury history and overall “being a freshman-ness” will hurt that, obviously.

-The changing of scheme will be beneficial to the line as a whole, with or without Chad Lindsay. Kalis, Braden, Glasgow, and Bosch are all better suited, in my opinion, to a more drive-blocking scheme, or at the very least an inside-zone scheme; rather than the outside zone stuff they played in last season.

-Devin Gardner doesn’t die.

-The running game will still take a step forward, although not as big of one as we’d like to see. There will be significantly fewer negative yardage plays, but it’s not like the running game will average 5 yards a pop. Still…getting back to the line of scrimmage is better than losing 4 yards, right? (sobs violently thinking about last season).

Thanks for reading, folks. Let me know what you think! Go Blue!!!

Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.