- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter
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Brady Hoke admires Lewan.
The Michigan Wolverines head coach knows Lewan turned back a tremendous opportunity when the offensive tackle decided to return to school for a fifth season.
"We had a discussion right after the (2012 season) bowl game, we talked about ... he probably would have been the first guy taken, to be honest with you," Hoke said. "The tackle (Eric) Fisher went (first overall) to Kansas City. But No. 1, Taylor wanted to come back and win a championship. He wanted to come back and be a leader because he knew we were going to be really, really young up front, offensively. I think he also knew that there was a development. Getting stronger in the upper body was one of the things we talked about, and just continuing the maturity process."
Despite some off-the-field issues that have been tied to Lewan, including a pending case on misdemeanor assault charges, Hoke fully supports his former player.
"He’s an awfully special young man to me," Hoke said. "I’m very proud of him. He has continued to grow, in my opinion, every day."
Mean streak: On the field, there’s no doubt about Lewan’s approach: He’s nasty.
At one point, maybe he was a little too nasty.
"Through his career at Michigan, he probably went over the line early in his career a couple of times," Hoke said. "As far as him wanting to finish every play and compete for 60 minutes against the guy and at the end, that guy having the respect for him on how he competed on every play is something that he prides himself in."
When Hoke talked about Lewan going over the line, the coach made sure to clarify he was talking about a younger, less mature Lewan.
"This is really before we got here," said Hoke, who took over at Michigan in January of 2011. "He had a few penalties after the ball was whistled dead, let’s put it that way. As far as you getting him to understand that dumb penalties hurt the team -- there’s going to be some that are uncontrollable -- he just plays with an intensity about him."
Next in line: The Wolverines have produced their share of high-caliber offensive linemen, including first-round picks Jake Long, Steve Hutchinson, and Jeff Backus along with second-rounder John Jansen.
Hoke, who was an assistant coach at Michigan from 1995-2002, views Lewan as a mix of them.
"There are characteristic things as well as physical things that, to me, Taylor has a little bit of all of them," Hoke said. "He’s got a little bit of (Jon) Runyan's nastiness. He’s got the footwork, and always thought Jansen and Long had great footwork when you look at pass sets and those kinds of things. Hutchinson and Backus were pretty good road-graders, even though Hutchinson was a guard. You can see Taylor and his bend being able to do that also."
The 6-foot-7-inch Lewan weighs 309 pounds. At the NFL combine, he had 29 reps in the bench press and ran the fastest 40 time among offensive lineman at 4.87 seconds.
"From his physical standpoint, his length and all those things are impressive," Hoke said. "But his athleticism and his explosiveness on the line of scrimmage and his ability to play with great leverage and his bend. He’s got very good feet. When you look at the pass protections and then staying on guys and finishing from the mentality that he has, he’s a guy who plays offensive tackle but really has a defensive mentality about how he wants to compete."
Check the film: Top draft prospect Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina, became a national sensation when he put that big hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl two seasons ago. But Hoke believes Lewan made a statement in the same game.
"The South Carolina film against Clowney, I think he played really a great football game," Hoke said of Lewan. "That was a test. That was a challenge. It really kind of told you about his preparation that he put in and his competitive nature."
Hoke also pointed to this past season’s game against Ohio State, during which the Buckeyes squeezed out a 42-41 win.
"This last year, he wore many hats," Hoke said. "We had a true freshman tight end lined up next to him and a true freshman offensive guard. He had a little more responsibility than most guys who are playing with a group of veterans. He did everything that he could, from a leadership standpoint and a teaching standpoint, to help those guys understand the offensive scheme and the nature of playing [as] an offensive lineman at the University of Michigan."
We conclude a week-long series on the top prospects the Atlanta Falcons are likely to consider with the sixth overall pick or higher with a look at Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.