September 11, 2012

Borton's Blog: Block party sought

Part of offensive coordinator Al Borges' job is keeping Michigan O-line from becoming the Uh-Oh line. Borges and Brady Hoke aren't as worried as some, even after less-than-scintillating rushing results the first two weeks. Here's why.

First, though, a stipulation. The Wolverines did rush for 214 yards against Air Force. Well, at least the Wolverine did. Denard Robinson racked up 208 of those yards and two rushing TDs, on bolts of 79 and 58 yards.

That didn't leave much for the tailbacks, who managed all of 42 yards in week one against Alabama. Even the return of 2011 1,000-yard rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint wasn't enough to kick-start the sans-Shoelace ground game.

Hoke is certainly committed to the tailback game. So is Borges, and that means making space for those who don't go from standstill to cheetah in a split-second.

The Wolverines featured a pair of 1,000-yard rushers a year ago. At this pace, they'll have a 1,000-yard rusher and a host of candidates vying to crack the 300 barrier.

Not so, Borges assures. The Wolverines up front just need a little more time.

New center Elliott Mealer has the unenviable task of taking over for the Rimington Award winner from last season, David Molk. Left guard Ricky Barnum hasn't experienced extensive run on the line, either, despite the fact that he, like Mealer, is a fifth-year senior.

What people don't remember, Borges cautioned, is that Michigan didn't come out of the gate hanging huge numbers from the tailbacks last season.

Toussaint did gain 80 yards in 11 carries in the season opener against Western Michigan last season, but 43 came on one breakaway, the sort he could have experienced Saturday, had Robinson not kept the ball and Usane Bolted 79 yards with it. In game two, against Notre Dame, Michigan's leading rusher aside from Robinson was Stephen Hopkins, with 10 yards. Toussaint's second 100-yard game of the season didn't occur until week five, in a 58-0 blowout over Minnesota.

Borges isn't promising a repeat of last season on the ground. He is saying U-M will get better, and more coordinated in its effort, up front.

"It's just working in concert, if that makes any sense, with the same five guys," Borges said. "You remember this -- we went through a little bit of this last year. It's very similar - I've got a little déjà vu - of getting our guys all working and knowing the calls, working together.

"But as they do it more, as Elliott gets them all on the right page, as guys start stepping together and coming off together, you'll see, it will progressively get better and better. We've got a lot more changes there. Losing the best center in the country, losing Mark Huyge, who was a very underrated player, a very solid football player, smart kid.

"We didn't spring Fitz much [against Air Force], but we sprung Denard. We gave him room to run. We've just got to take the next step with our tailbacks, Fitz and everybody else, too."

No changes are anticipated up front, Borges said - for now. There's always plenty of buzz about the newest Wolverines, still basking in the glow of recruiting rankings. But Hoke reminded everyone recently that offensive line is the toughest spot for any rookie to break in.

Meanwhile, Borges cautioned that it's only fair to allow the group on the field to come together - like last season.

"You've got to give those kids a little time to grow, too, unless they're just getting their butts kicked every play," Borges said. "We're not doing that.

"I'm not saying you never make a change, and it could be a freshman that you're going to replace him with. But before you do that, you want to make darned sure that it's the right move. Then you're starting all over again with another guy now. It's okay, this kid's got to learn to work with the other four guys.

"We made some progress, from game one to game two. It didn't result in our tailback running very well, but it did result in our quarterback running very well. We'll see what happens."

Whether or not that portends redshirts for all Michigan's freshman offensive linemen, Borges can't, or won't, say.

"I don't know," he offered. "Maybe. I don't know. Their parents ask me that question. I never commit to it, because you never know. In a perfect world, you may need one. I can't say."

He can say the hole-openers up front need to improve. In his experience, they will.


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