- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here he was, a walk-on running with the first-team Michigan offensive line this spring after assistant coach Darrell Funk noticed the 6-foot-1, 295-pound Burzynski was grading out as high, if not higher, than all of the scholarship guards fighting for position ahead of him.
As this continued to happen, he figured it might be time to clue in his parents, who were still footing his educational bill.
"As I started taking more reps with the ones, I called and said, 'Yeah, I'm playing pretty well,'" Burzynski said. "My mom, I don't think she cares that much. She's more into the school thing. She probably asked me what I got on a test that day or something. My dad was excited. He was all into it.
"Then he started sending out emails to everyone, like, 'Joey is playing well.'"
Michigan had an open competition at left guard and because Funk emphasizes production over anything else, Burzynski became a legitimate competitor for the slot vacated by Michael Schofield, who moved to right tackle after Mark Huyge graduated.
"In my mind, they entered fall camp even," Funk said. "I'm looking for someone to step up and take it."
They might have entered even, but Mealer, Burzynski and freshman Kyle Kalis, who is also working at the position, are distinctly different.
Burzynski is smaller to the ground, but plays with great leverage. Mealer has been a utility lineman throughout his career, almost always on the two-deep backing up multiple positions. So he has experience and, he believes, more consistency than he ever has.
After years of waiting, Mealer knows his last chance to start at Michigan is probably also his best.
"I would definitely say it is frustrating. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. But at the same time, frustrating at myself, not the coaches or the scheme or anything like that," Mealer said. "I firmly believe that when you get the opportunity to start or the opportunity to play, it's because you deserve it.
"Not to say I haven't deserved it in the past but you have to be consistent and well-rounded and maybe I hadn't been those things in the past. That's something that I hope and that I do think I am now."
The third option, Kalis, is the unknown quantity. He entered Michigan as one of the best offensive linemen in his class and at 6-foot-5, 294 pounds is physically built more like a lineman entering his second or third season instead of his first.
But he hasn't played in college before and the transition isn't always easy -- especially for linemen.
Even his teammates -- and those he's competing against for a job -- admit he is bigger than most.
"Physically, he's big. He's just big," Burzynski said. "That's the only way I can put it. It's depressing when you see freshmen and they are all bigger than you."
Depressing? Possibly. That matters little to Funk, though. He has started grading "every second" any of the candidates for the job is on the field. He would prefer for one player to win the job instead of running a rotation at the position, much as the Wolverines did for the first half of last season at running back among Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw.
At left guard, where chemistry is paramount, a rotation is much tougher to deal with.
"I've never been a big rotation guy but if that was the situation, where we had two guys who were dead even and we rolled them, that would be fine," Funk said. "I haven't done it in years but if they ended up dead even and we did it that way, that'd be fine.
"We're just looking for someone to step up and take it."
Offensive line coach is waiting for one of three players to seize the reins at left guard and move into the starting lineup.