"Downhill" strategy helping Michigan OL

Last season Brady Hoke and Al Borges put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a seasoned, yet inexperienced offensive line crew to get the run game going. In spring ball, inexperience is still there along with plenty of youth, but Borges is adding some simplicity to the mix.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Throughout fall camp leading up to Michigan’s 2012 season redshirt senior Ricky Barnum was tabbed as the man to replace former all-American center, David Molk. That is until Elliott Mealer was named the starter at center while the Wolverines were warming up for their season opener in Arlington, Texas against defending national champion, Alabama.

No promises have been made just yet but redshirt sophomore center Jack Miller is acquitting himself well in competition to take over as ‘captain’ of the offensive line, receiving votes of confidence from offensive coordinator Al Borges.

“Jack’s smart,” said Borges. “He’ll do fine. Jack will be fine -- he won’t make very many errors. And he’s still new too but the thing about Jack is he’s been here a little while now. He watched David and he watched Elliott a year ago, so I think he’s learned something from that too.”

Michigan’s young interior offensive linemen are in the process of learning everything on the fly, taking over for three redshirt seniors up front. As can be expected at any position the growth and understanding process is a slow moving one that builds confidence over time.

“Early on we were having some targeting issues,” said Borges. “By that I mean we were struggling a little bit figuring out who to block. Now our tackles, no problem because they’ve been doing it forever but you’ve got three inside guys that are brand new.

“And a new center and the center a lot of times sort of puts the whole line on the right page so to speak. Jack has played enough. Jack does a pretty good job of doing that but still processing the information that’s being given to you, quickly, and then responding quickly -- at the beginning we were slow to respond.

“But now that we’ve had 10 or 11 practices and they’ve seen those same looks, heard those same calls, we’re a little better at it. We’re still not well oiled but a lot better at it.”

Borges also added his young interior group isn’t, “turning people loose inside the box where as soon as the back gets the ball there’s a guy hitting him,” which should come as good news for Michigan’s stable of backs after the hit South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney planted on Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.

A form of simplification has emerged that’s been very beneficial in safeguarding against confusion or missed assignments that should carry over into the fall and it’s called, ‘see body, hit body,’ especially as Michigan looks to improve on a rushing attack that couldn’t generate much of anything in 2012.

“They know what it takes to run the football,” said Borges. “And we’re trying to push that more and more. And our style is such where it’s different than a year ago. We’re playing more under center, we’re doing more things that allows them to have a more ‘Sic ’em’ mentality rather than being shotgun every play and there’s a lot of sideways stuff going on. We’re more downhill now and that helps the offensive line.

“I think we’re athletic in there and I think we’re stout. I think when all that stuff starts to come together we’re talking about, that they’re going to be a good offensive line. I’d be surprised if they weren’t.”

The line won’t be a finished product once spring practice comes to a close with the spring football game on Saturday, April 13th at Michigan stadium. The key to it all, according to Borges, will just be repetition.

“They haven’t arrived,” said Borges. “They aren’t ready to be anointed. The biggest thing is, I think, is when you start to repeat plays a lot. When you’re installing plays you’re just installing plays and seeing how quickly the schemes take. But the linemen start to get better is when you start repeating the plays.

“After they’ve done it and done it and done it -- if they’ve got some talent and some awareness, they’ll get it done. They will.”

To watch video of Borges discussing the tight end position, including why freshman Jake Butt has been called “sensational” in the early going, press play below.

The Michigan Insider Top Stories