Spring Preview: The Offensive Line

GBW continues to preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and the fall. Who will start on the offensive line, and how will the team develop depth? Here is GBW's anaylsis.<br><br> ***Comments added by Former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet***

"Mark Ouimet: "This will be a great offensive line. Both tackles and both guards will go in the first three rounds of the NFL draft when their time comes. And it is their second year as a group. They should give the starting running back 100+ yards a game."

Tony Pape will return to become a three years starter at offensive tackle. In 2002, he was named first team All-Big Ten as selected by the conference coaches. He's big, strong, and will contend for All-American honors in 2003. He began the season at right tackle, but switched to the left side late in the year to fill in for the injured Adam Stenavich. With Stenavich now healthy, Pape will be the starter at right tackle. The big question for 2003 will be who plays back up to Pape. Because an injury at left tackle may likely see Pape take over there again. Therefore, the backup right tackle may be called to step in if either Pape or Stenavich are injured.

Ouimet: "Tony Pape is a great run blocker, and a very good pass protector. He's a fifth year senior, and this will be his third year starting. He's someone the younger guys on the line can look up to and follow. He's big, strong, and pretty athletic. Two years ago Michigan moved him to left tackle, but they realized they needed him in front of John Navarre, so John doesn't get hit in face. He's intelligent, he can pick up on what the defensive end is doing. And he can also get down on the linebacker on run blocking. Pape will go high in NFL draft."

Tony Pape (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

The starting right guard in 2003 is expected to be Matt Lentz. Lentz earned extensive playing time last year, as just a redshirt freshman. He injured his ankle in practice following the Penn State game, which held him out for several games. He is expected to be healthy entering the spring, and provides Michigan with a big strong run blocker at guard. As with all young offensive lineman, Lentz is still learning, and Spring Practice provides the opportunity from him to improve his technique.

Matt Lentz and John Navarre (Getty Images/Elsa)

At center, Dave Pearson returns as a starter, but will see fierce competition from Andy Christopfel. Pearson moved to center from the defensive line during Spring Practice last year, and won the job as starter. As a result, he is expected to hang on to the job for 2003. Last year, he performed well at center while still learning the position. He will need to get stronger, and the action he sees in the spring will help him continue to develop his skills as a pass blocker. Christopfel is worth mentioning, as the difference between starter and backup is closer at center than at any other position on the offensive line. However, if he is going to make a push for the starting job, Christopfel will have to prove himself in the spring.

Ouimet: "David Pearson. He's a guy who played defense for three years, then last spring moved to offensive center and picked it up real well. Same situation as Kurt Anderson before him. Pearson is solid -- a good run and pass blocker. And he's smart -- in calling the checks, and in picking up blitzes. And Pearson and Navarre work well together, they are very compatable."

Dave Pearson (Getty Images/Tom Pidgeon)

Redshirt junior David Baas returns to start at left guard. In 2002, he earned first team All-Big Ten honors, as selected by both the media and coaches. He's a tough player, and arguably Michigan's best run blocker. Like Pape, he has his position solidly locked down. With several returning starters, Spring Practice will be a time for the Wolverines to develop depth along the offensive line. How well they accomplish that goal may determine the success of the offense in 2003, in case injuries strike.

Ouimet: "Right guard will be Matt Lantz and left guard David Baas. They are both big strong young guys, similar actually in playing and athletic ability, so I've got to talk about them together. Both are great run blockers. And they both are and decent pass protectors who still need to learn a little more about pass blocking -- and they will. They are great additions to the line."

David Baas (Getty Images/Tom Pidgeon)

Adam Stenavich won the starting job at left tackle as just a redshirt freshman last year. However, like Lentz, he suffered an injury in practice the week following Michigan's game with Penn State. He missed much of the season after that point, but returned strong in the Outback Bowl. In 2002, he showed great potential at the position, but suffered at times from inexperience. Spring Practice will be important an important opportunity for Stenavich to develop his skills.

Ouimet: "At left tackle is Adam Stenavich. He is just as good as Pape, he just had to have a quicker learning curve to come in and play last year. Then he got injured, his ankles, and that slowed him down. But he is very talented."

Adam Stenavich (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

As discussed, developing a backup at right tackle will be of key importance for 2003. Courtney Morgan struggled at times while playing left tackle, but performed well on the right side, late last year. He is the most likely candidate to step in at right tackle if either Pape or Stenavich are injured. Morgan is a utility player on the Michigan offensive line, as he can play at either tackle or on the interior. Demeterius Solomon has a full year of starting experience from 2001, and will continue to push for playing time. However, redshirt freshman Mike Kolodziej may also make a strong push to play back up at offensive tackle, if he is healthy for Spring Practice. Kyle Ealey and Ruben Riley will also compete to earn playing time.

Ouimet: "The starters are in their second year as a group. So they will get a decent amount of snaps in the spring, but a lot of snaps will also go to the backups in case of injury. There are good players sitting on the bench ... if someone gets hurt I don't see a problem."
"Tony Pape is backed up by Soloman, also a fifth year guy who just caught in shuffle of talented tackles. At the other side, Courtney Morgan came in and did a solid job last year. Courtney will get a lot of reps this spring, which he needs. Then there's Mike Kolodziej, Soloman, Kyle Ealey, Ruben Riley -- a good amount of talent, both older and younger."

Courtney Morgan (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

On the interior line, Leo Henige may be called on as the number one backup to both right and left guard. Jeff Gaston and Tom Berishaj will compete in the spring to establish themselves on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Bihl may compete at either guard or center. If Solomon or one of the young offensive tackles are able to step up during Spring Practice, it will allow Courtney Morgan to assume a backup role at guard. While the starters are pretty well set, injuries are common on the offensive line, and Spring Practice will be crucial in developing depth.

Ouimet: "At center there are two great backups, which is unusual. Andy Christophel and Mark Bihl -- so there will be great competition next year for the starting job. Both Christophel and Bihl are good. Very good. They are the same type physically, and are both smart. Both are very talented actually."

"At guard, the number one backup is Leo Henige, then Jeff Gaston, and Tom Berishaj. It's possible that Bihl or Christophel could move over there in the future as well."

Joining in the fall will be true freshman Jake Long and Pat Sharrow. Jeff Zuttah has already enrolled, but will not participate in Spring Practice. Adam Kraus is likely to outgrow the tight end position, and play on the offensive line. All of the above players are expected to redshirt. Michigan will graduate Pape, Solomon, and Morgan after 2003; however, they have done well in recruiting tackles over the last few years. With 20-25 scholarships available, the Wolverines would still like to grab at least one tackle for the 2004 recruiting class. However, they will need to take two or preferably three interior offensive lineman. Fortunately, Michigan often recruits high school tackles to play guard or center.

Ouimet: "As far as the freshmen - you've got Jake Long at tackle and Jeff Zuttah at guard (health is question mark for Zuttah, but people who say he's out for good are wrong at this point)."

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