Watching the struggles of the 2008 Michigan offense a grueling experience for Wolverine fans. Initially there was a wealth of optimism about the ease with which the transition would take hold, but massive inexperience combined with a cavernous difference in philosophy caused reality to set in very quickly not just for fans, but for players as well
"At first I didn't think (adjustment would be so difficult), but then after realizing how different this offense is from what we used to run… even though it's still zone (blocking scheme) like we used to run, it's a totally different pace and a different way of running it," said sophomore center Dave Molk. "We run a stretch zone instead of a read zone like we used to. Last year our zone plays, if I was working with the guard, we would be working to the backside backer and I would actually step in and then turn back and reach the guy. Now it's stretch so you're just working forward and forward and forward, so sometimes offensive lineman will end up on safeties and DBs or whoever comes inside. It's a tough transition and we're gradually getting through it. It's coming."
As difficult as things were for Molk, he had it easier than one of his fellow linemates. His familiarity with some of the techniques basic fundamentals of playing on the offensive line gave him a firm base from which to work from. The same wasn't true for the man that lined up to his left in the Purdue game, John Ferrara. The former defensive lineman switched sides during fall camp and has been working as hard as he could to learn as fast as he could ever since.
"The whole group (of offensive linemen) has been real helpful with trying to help me out and trying to bring the learning curve, make it shorter for me," said Ferrara. "The guys in front of me like Tim McAvoy, Dave Moosman and Dave Molk… if I'm not real sure, those guys have been playing center and guard interchangeable so they can help me out with a lot of technique stuff. Even the younger guys, they'll bring me over and say, ‘hey you got to work on this a little bit more', so I appreciate it."
"Playing offensive line is more like a collective," Ferrara continued. "We all have to be on the same page at the same time. As far as the defensive line goes, my job isn't completely dependent on the defensive's end job. As an offensive guard and offensive tackle, we need to work together on plays. A lot of the blocking schemes, the zone schemes, we have got to know who each guy is working to and how we have to get there… if we're working up on the same guy, if were doubling someone, or someone's coming off. So you just have to know who is working with who, which way you're going and what not. Where the defensive line is a little more individualistic and you just kind of do what the play calls for. There's time when you have to be on the same page if were running a stunt or something like that, but from the offensive line perspective you really need to be together and you really just have to know what everyone is doing."
"It is a tough thing to do," added Molk about the switch. "To go from defensive line, which is a completely different stance, totally different way of taking on the game then going to the offensive line where you really adapting and reading and all that kind of stuff. I knew it was going to be hard, but he's moving along; he's progressing well."
As is generally the case with most other skills on the football field, repetition leads to progress. Every week, the unit sees itself taking a step forward.
"Every practice we have together we gel," said Molk. "It's a comfort level that you have to earn with every single guy. Like I have a comfort level with Moose, now I have to form a new comfort level with John, because he's just come into that guard spot. Every day, every practice, it gets better and better. This will come together and be something exciting."
It would be very easy for the group to hang their collective heads because of their record, but they've chosen instead to focus on the task at hand… improving.
"It's tough," Molk admitted, "but you really can't get too down on it because once you do that you really kill your mental attitude and you start playing worse. You have to overcome an obstacle and that is how you move on. We have so many young guys on offense and the whole O-line is going to be back and we're just building and building and building."