ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan returned mostly the same offensive line from a year ago. A group that struggled mightily to create anything in the running game and couldn't keep its quarterback upright.
Fastforward to 2015 and those troubles are nothing more than a distant memory.
Weekly improvements have contributed to the offensive lines about face this season. Those improvements are led by right guard Kyle Kalis, who U-M head coach Jim Harbaugh has said has consistently graded out as one of the top offensive lineman on the unit.
Like the line, Harbaugh says that Kalis has seen weekly improvement and will only get better as the season progresses.
“Better and better,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really on his assignments. He’s playing with a better pad level, making the right fits. He’s done good.”
Though Kalis can't exactly pinpoint why everything is starting to make sense, he believes a back-to-the-basics approach is helping him get on the right track.
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"Lately, for whatever reason, I've been playing football for the reason why I started playing football because I like to be physical," Kalis said. "I like to hit people and I like to have fun, that's fun for me. Going out there, but also at the same time, you want to do it in a way where you're successful and do it in a way where people will watch you and say 'wow, he's doing it good. We want to do it like that guy'. So that's the other reason I've been trying to, not recently trying to, but for whatever reason it's just been happening for me lately. It's been a good feeling."
Of course, coaching goes a long way, too. With that, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tim Drevno does deserve some of that credit. Not only has the offensive line benefited from Drevno's teachings, in turn, it's helped the running game as well. For Kalis,
"One, he's an awesome guy, a great coach, a great dad and a great rolemodel for us to look up to," Kalis said. "Secondly, he's an awesome coach. He's a guy who doesn't accept mediocrity and he doesn't accept anything unless its exactly how he wants it, what's going to help the team. The way he coaches us makes us work super hard. I'm not sure what it is, it's just the way he is and it's the same thing as Coach Harbaugh. There's something about him that makes you want to do well and it's good for us."
Kalis has said in the past that he has let his adrenaline consume him to the point where he might get out of control and lead him to be in a bad position on the field. Though nothing hasn't really changed on that perspective, Kalis has allowed himself to act, and most importantly think, more freely on the football field.
"I've never dialed it back but I've been playing more relaxed," Kalis said. "When I play, I don't think so much and that's the key. You've just got to learn how to control it, filter it and use it."
These changes don't necessarily happen overnight. Sure, coaching goes a long way in terms of player development, but there's also a mental aspect of football. A coach can only tell you so much about the game of football until its time to pick it up and learn the concepts yourself. For Kalis, last offseason was a very important one for him. Not only did he make personal strides, he also established himself as a team leader.
Something Kalis will cherish personally.
"I had a huge offseason," Kalis said. "I finally became a leader on this team is a huge thing. Because of that, guys are relying on me, I have guys looking up to me and that is a huge driving factor for me, personally. I don't want to let anybody down, I don't want to let the young guys down, the coaches, fans and most importantly myself.
"I want to do good and I'm going to do good."