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August 19, 2011

Offensive line transitioning smoothly

Heading into the 2011 season, the Michigan offensive line is grappling with small, fundamental changes in the way things are done. Everything is different - but, oddly, the same, too.

The footwork, which can be ingrained in a player, changed just slightly, nothing to drastic. The spacing is different, but all in all, the transition hasn't greatly effected the way things are done in the trenches.

In fact, transitioning from the no-huddle set to a more tradition, clock-controlling offense may be the biggest change.

"Over the spring, [the huddle] was a little weird, definitely," fifth-year senior offensive tackle Mark Huyge said. "At this point, we're all used to it."

Huyge says that the Wolverines' new base play, the power, was an asset last year. But in 2011, Michigan will be downfield blocking much more regular.

"It is a little bit more physical, because we're running more downhill plays," he said.
"Last year, our primary play was outside zone, and this year it's coming at you.

Really, they're not that much different. We ran the power last year, so we knew the footwork already, basically. [Offensive line coach Darrell] Funk tweaked us here and there a little bit. But it's just doing it more often."

The transition has also been helped by the experience most starters have gained over their career. Center David Molk, guard Patrick Omameh, tackle Taylor Lewan and Huyge have all started games.

The only question mark is left guard Rickey Barnum, who will most likely start at left guard on Sept. 3 against Western Michigan. Although he has yet to log significant playing time, Huyge is impressed with his progress.

"Ricky keeps making tremendous strides," Huyge said. "The kid works really hard. I know in spring ball, he took a lot of reps, and that helps, and he's come a long way, as well."

As a whole, the first-team line is looking smooth.

"I think we're getting a little bit more consistent," Huyge said. "We know the playbook a lot better from spring. The main goal is just improving every day, working on individual stuff as well as gelling with the team."

Depth also remains a concern. In the spring, Funk said he'd like to have eight linemen he'd feel comfortable with in the game, but the Wolverines may not get there.

Redshirt sophomore Michael Schofield looks like the best bet to see game action as a back up for either tackle spot, and redshirt junior Rocko Khoury will help at the guard and center positions.

"I can't answer that exactly yet, but I know everyone is trying their hardest and guys are making strides, which is huge," Huyge said. "Second-team guys, third-team guys, everyone is stepping up."

Notes

Controlling the clock: Last season, the Wolverines preached an up-tempo style, but expect more clock management this year.

"[Time of possession] will be very important, and that will be a result of this offense, just pounding away at guys and hitting the holes hard, gaining yards and staying on the field, as an offense," Huyge said.

Second-year quarterback: Michigan hasn't had a returning starter at quarterback since the 2007 season, and Huyge said the comfort level with the signal caller will be a big boost in '11.

"It helps a lot for consistency, because you have a guy back there and you know how he plays and what he's capable of.," he said. "It's important for an offensive line. With Denard, you know you have to stay on your block, because he can take off at any time."


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