OL Inconsistent, Cutting Negative Plays Key

Michigan's offensive line showed flashes of improvement in Saturday's spring football game. One aspect new Wolverines' offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier wants cleaned up most are negative plays, a major issue in 2013. Also Brady Hoke on just how close the group is to having a starting five established.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s offensive line is a work in progress, and has been each of the last two seasons for a Wolverines’ offense struggling to establish a consistent rushing attack.

Add in the fact that Michigan is coming off a 2013 season in which they allowed 36 sacks for a combined 270-yards, and are now without the services of future NFL draft picks Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield because of graduation, and things appear pretty bleak at the position group overall.

This spring, learning a new system under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the offensive line was also working without the services of redshirt sophomore left tackle Erik Magnusson, a projected starter this fall after starting seven games at guard last fall.

With all of the shuffling around, youth and plenty of inexperience to boot, Michigan’s performance during Saturday’s spring game could be described in one word by Coach Brady Hoke.

“Inconsistent,” Hoke said. “I think there were a couple good runs in there they did a pretty good job with.

“We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game a couple times but through the course of the 15 practices I think there’s been some real improvements made.”

If nothing else, Michigan’s offensive line was able to open up enough holes for the running backs to surge forward for a yard or two on several plays, some of which would’ve been three or four yard losses in 2013.

Adding in Devin Gardner’s sacks, Michigan’s ball carriers lost a combined 464 total yards a year ago.

“I feel like you can grow in every area but we’ve been really consistent,” Gardner said. “We’ve been able to cut down on negative plays. That’s a big thing he (Doug Nussmeier) always talks about and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

In protection, as Hoke alluded to, Michigan’s quarterbacks were under pressure most of the afternoon. Although there was several touch sacks for the defense Saturday, Gardner thinks the group in charge of protecting him has shown progress.

“I feel pretty good cause today I felt like we competed well against the defense,” Gardner said. “They (the defense) made some plays and they got through a little bit and then at other times we protected really well.

“When you play with each other for 15 straight days you know a little tendencies of each other and it’s hard to just continue to stop guys from getting in.”

Saturday aside, Brady Hoke says he’s seen some consistency out of the group throughout the spring.

“I think last Saturday and last Tuesday we were a little better than we were today,” Hoke said. “I thought we were just a little inconsistent. Leverage, some of it was body posture; running our feet through things.”

Based on injuries, depth, but also a strong spring, true freshman tackle Mason Cole received tons of reps with the first team offense Saturday, impressing with maturity beyond his years.

“He’s kind of a lot like Freddy (Canteen),” Hoke said. “His program, his high school coach and how he’s been developed, you can see that at a variety of programs but he has a confidence about him, he’s athletic, nothing seems really to phase him and that’s kind of unique.”

Still, overall, Hoke doesn’t believe Michigan is close to feeling confident and set in the five offensive linemen that will take the field together against Appalachian State on August 30 at the big house.

“I don’t know if we could say that, honestly,” Hoke said. “I know I can’t, so, I guess the answer’s no.

“We got to see how Magnusson, how he tracks back so, I’d say no.”

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