Technicians with a mean streak

Michigan wants smart offensive linemen who play through the whistle

Updated: August 5, 2012, 1:50 PM ET
By Michael Rothstein | WolverineNation

To preview Michigan's football season this year, WolverineNation takes a look at each position through the spectrum of the expectations of the position set by head coach Brady Hoke and the coordinators -- along with those who have played the position at Michigan in the past.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They are the guys whose names fans shouldn't know, who often don't necessarily want fans to know them, either. Yet without any offensive line, the skill players who so often become the stars of the football team would never be able to do anything.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US PresswireTaylor Lewan inherits the leadership mantle for the offensive line from David Molk.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is a line guy. A defensive line coach by trade, he often will praise the lines before anything else and point to whether or not the line was effective before offering criticism or praise.

The three positions on the line -- tackle, guard and center -- all have different jobs and roles. But when they come together to form a cohesive unit, they become an integral part of the football team.

It is merely what is expected.

"They want a physical guy and normally a guy that likes to run block," former Michigan offensive lineman Jonathan Goodwin said. "The main thing that stands out as far as being a lineman here at Michigan is you go through a lot here and it is a pretty physical school.

Being physical is paramount for an offensive lineman -- a trait that transcends one school or one player. Almost every team in college football has tough, physical linemen whose lone goal is to make the defensive lineman opposing him miserable for four quarters.

Where schools differ is in the nuance of what the requirements are for the line to produce. A spread line, for instance, would be asked to do different things than a line with a run-first offense.

"The biggest thing is take care of the quarterback in the passing game and in the run game, establish the line of scrimmage with some consistency," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "By that, I mean give our running backs a chance to get every play started.

"Knowing that the running back, if he can get the play started by getting to the second level of the defense and sometimes at least get to the first level where the back can make something happen. If the back is getting hit in the backfield, we've got some issues."

The jobs each position has are also more specialized. A tackle at Michigan is expected to be taller because they have to be more mobile and able to get outside to block fast defensive ends and also be able to handle when the same end tries to go inside on the tackle.

The guards, Borges said, are usually "thicker guys" whose job is to help shape the pocket and ensure the quarterback -- in this case, Denard Robinson -- has room to still step up and make a throw if the edge of the pocket begins to collapse around him.

The center, while having a lot of the same roles as a guard, is expected to make sure the rest of the line understands what is going on on each play. Often, Borges said, he must have a knowledge of the offense similar to if not greater than the quarterback.

"The center is a little different guy," Borges said. "He doesn't have to be a big, tall guy because he'll get a lot of help and if he knows how to use his help, he'll be able to play the position.

"But he has to be a bright kid and isn't a guy out there who needs instruction. He's doing the instructing."

This was critical for Michigan over the past three seasons, as the Wolverines had one of the nation's top centers, David Molk. With Molk gone, that responsibility likely falls to fifth-year senior Ricky Barnum, who has spent the majority of his career at guard and fighting off injuries.

In Molk, Michigan had almost its prototypical offensive lineman -- in every way but height. He had an intense mean streak. He combined high intelligence with an elite skill level.

He was, essentially, what was expected. It rubbed off on this season's top lineman, Taylor Lewan, who said he really learned last season what those expectations were.

"Aggressive, mean, through the whistle," Lewan said. "All those things come into play. Good technique. Fundamentally sound, aggressive football. It is something you learn as you go on.

"The coaches tell you about it, definitely, but you learn as you go."

Now, Lewan and Patrick Omameh are the veterans on the offensive line and are expected to teach everyone else and turn Borges' expectations into reality.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter