The musical chairs along the offensive line was on full display Thursday when a first unit of (from left to right) Logan Tuley-Tillman, Erik Magnuson, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden took the field. Cole at center and Tuley-Tillman at left tackle was a surprise to some, but certainly not to those that have been following the practice rumblings on our premium messageboard. While it’s clear aforementioned line composition is definitely subject to change the remainder of the spring and into next fall, what we’re seeing now is a reflection of who the coaches believe are their best five linemen at this point. That’s an obvious sign of Tuley-Tillman’s growth.
As was noted on the premium board earlier this winter and in our pre-spring breakout players segment, Tuley-Tillman was a good bet to push for a starting spot. Before former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier departed for Gator country he was singled out Tuley-Tillman as a player to watch in a chat with GoBlueWolverine. He mentioned that the redshirt sophomore would’ve challenged for a starting job last year had he not gotten injured last spring. He has clearly made the same kind of impression on the new coaching staff.
While fans certainly paid attention to Tuley-Tillman’s rise, most of the focus coming out of Tuesday’s practice was on Cole lining up a center and what that might say about Patrick Kugler’s progress. Many fans assumed that Cole’s move was precipitated by Kugler’s lack of growth, but it appears to have more to do with the progress of the two tackles.
Cole is a virtual lock as one of the five best. He will start somewhere on Michigan’s offensive line. After that Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson look like pretty safe bets at the guard spots. If Tuley-Tillman and Braden round out the best five, then Cole, who could play anywhere up front, is the pick at center. He has all the tools… good technique, and impressive combination of athleticism and strength, and arguably the highest football I.Q. at the position. But what if Kugler comes on and moves into that top five, displacing one of the tackles? In that instance Cole could be kicked back outside to man one of the tackles.
So while it may look like the battle being waged is between Cole and Kugler, the real one is between Kugler and the two tackles.
Michigan WILL Run the Ball Better
Most observers of practice this year are convinced that Michigan will feature an improved ground attack this year. While that obviously has something to do with the experience the Wolverines now boast along the line and in the backfield, it has a great deal to do with scheme also.
“Here’s what is going on right now… Derrick Green looks like a different running back,” Marcus Ray said. “He’s starting to look like he supposed to look. Meaning, he gets the ball, he’s patient, the hole is there, and he’s hitting it. But the hole is more definitive (than it was last year). Sometimes when the running back misses a hole, there might be two holes but one of them isn’t supposed to be there. So you may see something that is not supposed to be there and ends up getting you tackled (because) it is not the true point of attack. That happened a lot in the last two seasons. What Derrick Green and De’Veon are doing, they’re taking advantage of a great blocking scheme, #1. These are the same guys that I watched block up front but for the last two years, but this is what Harbaugh and Drevno are doing. They’re getting one more blocker at the point of attack then you have defender. “
“That was the secret to Harbaugh’s success in running the ball, other than having great players. His blocking scheme. He’s going to outnumber you. It could be a tight end that is lined up in the slot and motioned in and crack back on the end and guys pulling. Or it could be an extra offensive lineman pulling around at the point of attack after they’ve blocked down and they’re getting seven guys at the point of attack where you have six. That’s working to De’Veon’s advantage… that’s working in Derrick Green’s favor. The hole is there, they’ve got four yards before they’re even getting touched at times. (Tuesday) Derrick Green broke one for about 30 yards outside. It was just an off tackle play, it was blocked well. One guy fell asleep on defense and next thing you know Derrick Green was turning the corner and somebody had to run him down from the backside. They’re running downhill, they’re protecting the football. I think they have more confidence in the guys blocking up front and in the scheme because the holes are there for you… you don’t have to find them. There is not a lot of zone blocking. Michigan was trying to be a zone blocking team last year at times, even though they said they wanted to be a downhill power, (which) is called gap scheme. You block down-down and assign people guys… base blocking. Michigan was zone blocking at times, which means we’ll block an area… you and I will protect the A gap up to a linebacker. Now they are saying, ‘I got you… you got him, and we’ll double team here and here. These running backs now don’t have to find a hole. In zone blocking, you’ve got to find the hole. You have to be that guy with patient and scan the linebackers…. kind of what Mike Hart used to do. He was the best at it. He could find that hole… he had vision. I think Derrick Green and De’Veon are more gap scheme, base blocking backs, where you’ve got to open the hole for them to see it and not find it. Then they’ll hit it and they’ll show you what they have moving forward down the field.”