Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Erik Magnuson played on the interior of Michigan's offensive line last season, battling through a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery. He's ready for a much different feel to the 2014 campaign.
Magnuson started off last year as Michigan's sixth offensive lineman, playing behind a pair of tackles who went in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. That didn't give him much hope of seeing the field often in 2013.
Things began to change when injuries and under-performance plagued the interior offensive line. Magnuson moved in and helped out, although he admitted struggling particularly with pass protection.
He's glad to be back at tackle this fall, and many project he'll grab the high-profile left tackle spot vacated by first-round NFL Draft pick Taylor Lewan. Magnuson understands the talk that the Wolverines can't suffer personnel losses like they have and expect to be better on the line.
He begs to differ.
"We don't have a Taylor Lewan, who was our best offensive lineman," Magnuson said. "We don't have a Mike Schofield. We don't have those types of guys on our team anymore. We've got to play as a team, and come together a lot better as an offensive line.
"We have good size. Everybody is going to be over 6-5, over 300 pounds. We have some game experience, and we have a bunch of offensive linemen that work really hard. We'll have the hardest-working offensive line in the Big Ten, in the country."
Magnuson hopes the hardest part - the breaking-in part - is over for the majority of Wolverines up front on the offensive side of the football. He learned not only blocking schemes, now changed out in favor of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's directives, but also the intensity he encountered on a regular basis.
"Everybody told me about the Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State types of games," he said. "As much as people tell you about it, warn you about it, give you advice about it, you won't get anything until you play in it.
"People will tell you all they want, but there is nothing like the experience of playing in those games. It's the hatred and respect those universities have for each other, the level of play you have to achieve. You can't understand it until you do it."
Magnuson understands the low offensive line expectations floating about, based on last year's struggles and the personnel losses. He's heard all the complaints and fears, some involving his position coach, Darrell Funk.
Again, Magnuson noted, the Wolverines aren't going to be the same group they were a year ago.
"Coach Funk is part of us," Magnuson said. "He's the head of our crew, so every negative thing that is said about us goes back to him. We're all in this together. He hated last season as much as we did, or even more.
"He tells us we've got to work so much harder this offseason. We've got to focus so much harder. We've got to do the little things this season so much better than we did going into last season. We've got to put more time into the film room.
"He's doing the same thing. He's working harder. He's doing everything he needs to do to get us ready for big games like that, and every single game. He's doing his best job to get us ready."
Magnuson admitted last year's Ohio State game still grinds him a bit. It's not just that the Wolverines came up two points and one play shy of a signature win over the Buckeyes. It's that Michigan's offense, which had largely disappeared in November prior to the showdown with the Buckeyes, put 40 points on the board, revealing what might have been.
"For me, that's the biggest disappointment," he said. "We played against Ohio State and lost by one point. They were supposedly a top-10 team throughout the whole entire season, didn't lose a game until the [Big Ten] championship game. We were one point away from beating them.
"That shows when we decide to turn it on, we had everything we needed, as far as energy, as far as everybody playing together. That one game, we had it going for us. When we did that, we can play with the best of them.
"But we didn't bring that every week. That's the biggest disappointment."
Magnuson insisted that for him, so much has changed in a relatively short span.
"I'll be different because I have the experience under my belt," he said. "I know I can play with them. It's kind of normal to, not doubt yourself, but to wonder if this is where you're supposed to be when you're not playing games. But when you get in the game, and you're playing with them and playing well, you understand.
"This is meant for me. I've got to do this. I have that confidence in me, and I have the work ethic I learned from the older guys - Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield. I'll be unbelievably better, having that level of confidence."
The football aspect of college life proved a bit rocky for Magnuson in his first season on the field. Other parts of his breaking-in period have gone much more smoothly, even though he had to make the cross-country move from California to Michigan.
"I've built great relationships with friends and even people outside of football," he said. "You don't get a place like Ann Arbor out on the west coast. There are great universities, no doubt, and there are great football teams.
"But the atmosphere, the people you have in Ann Arbor, the love and everything you'll get as a football player or any athlete is unlike anywhere else I've ever been, especially during football season.
"It's kind of weird, thinking there are all of these successful people in Ann Arbor - professors and researchers and everything. But they look up to us like we're professionals, or we did something special in their life. I'm 20 years old and I'm playing football. It's pretty strange."
He'd like to do something even more special over the next few months. That began in earnest today, on the opening day of fall camp.
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