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March 19, 2012
Ricky Barnum looks good at center so far
The transition from guard to center is not always seamless, but in the case of fifth-year senior Ricky Barnum, he simply has to adjust because Michigan has no other option. The good news is Barnum has looked capable early in spring practice ...
"He's doing a great job," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He still ... [defensive coordinator] Greg Mattison will throw some defenses at you. He will test your center's ability to adjust.
"It's a work-in-progress, but Rick is a smart kid, and the more he sees it, the better he's going to get at it, the better he'll understand it, the better he'll get the other guys to understand it because that's part of his job too.
"I'm not concerned about Ricky. If he keeps progressing like I think he will, he'll be a good center."
The battle at center to replace David Molk, a four-year starter, a 2011 All-American and the Rimington Award winner (as the nation's top center), was expected to be a three-man race this spring with Barnum, classmate Rocko Khoury and redshirt freshman Jack Miller, however Khoury is not pursuing a fifth season of eligibility.
That puts the onus on Barnum, especially, to have a great spring as he learns the intricacies of a position that can take years to master.
"Once a kid plays center for awhile, they usually prefer it because they know exactly when the ball is coming up," Borges said. "They can control the line play a little bit better. But center is a different animal than tackle or guard because our center quarterbacks the offensive line - he puts them all on the same page with regard to targeting fronts whether it's pass protecting or running.
"That position is absolutely critical that we get productivity. You need a smart guy that is athletic, that knows how to use his help. We don't ask our center to consistently single block a nose guard, but he has to know how to make the calls that get him help.
"I could go into all the nuances but it's endless what that kid has to do. It's not an easy position to play."
The good news is U-M returns starters at left tackle (redshirt junior Taylor Lewan), right guard (fifth-year senior Patrick Omameh) and right tackle (redshirt junior Michael Schofield). Schofield is going through his own transition, however, moving from left guard to right tackle.
"I think he'll do fine because it's a more natural position for him," Borges said. "He's a tackle profile. He's 6-6 [6-7, 299 pounds], he has great feet. He was a hurdler in high school. It's obvious because he can move.
"He's really more of a tackle body type than a guard body type, though he did a nice job at guard. But this is where we need him now, he's very receptive to it and so far he's done a nice job."
Another concern along the offensive line is depth; Michigan will only have seven scholarship linemen on the roster this spring. Four freshmen will arrive in the fall, but they cannot help U-M now. And even one injury could greatly affect the way the Wolverines practice.
"You have to be smart with it, yet if you don't get accomplished what you're trying to get accomplished, then spring football is a waste of time," Borges said. "So we're always going to err on the side of getting after it a little bit. If we have to pull off we'll pull off, but Brady [Hoke] and our whole offensive staff believes the game is played with a physical demeanor, and we're not going to ever stop that. If guys get hurt we'll try to be smart but we're not going to stop thinking that way."
"Kids are watching Alabama now," Borges said. "They'll come in on their own. Right now, it's about developing our football team, though. We don't have an opponent in front of us other than ourselves.
"We're trying to get every guy a little better every single day, and build up to that. Get through spring football, and as you get closer to the game you become more focused on the task at hand, but right now, we have a heavy emphasis this spring on becoming a fundamentally better offense.
"We've talked about it, we're practicing for it, and that's really the main focus. Where last year we were trying to do fundamentals and install our offense - that's a headache - but the second year, now that it is installed, we're trying to get better with our footwork at every position, and just do the little things better."