Michigan Football Spring Review: Offensive Line
If you've missed any of The Wolverine's spring coverage, get caught up on everything at our Spring Ball Headquarters.
Spring practice is over, and while the football team is out enjoying France, we continue taking a look at each position group's progress heading into the summer. Today we move on to the offensive line — the area Michigan needs to improve on the most from last season.
• Fifth-year senior tackle Juwan Bushell-Beatty: After an up and down year at right tackle in 2017, Bushell-Beatty has been practicing at both tackle spots, but seems to be sticking at left. He holds a slim lead over James Hudson for the starting job, and he likely will earn the start against Notre Dame given his veteran experience compared to Hudson's. He's been one of the lineman that has improved a lot this spring and is flourishing under new offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
• Junior guard Ben Bredeson: Bredeson is the leader among the linemen and will start the season as Michigan's best lineman — although Cesar Ruiz could be right there with him and even surpass him during the season. He will start at left guard as long as the left tackle spot doesn't get worse between now and the season opener.
• Sophomore center Cesar Ruiz: Ruiz has been the breakout star on offense this spring. He's impressed everyone that's watched him play and should be a dominant center in the Big Ten. He has an NFL future and will be snapping to his former high school teammate in junior quarterback Shea Patterson. Ruiz will be an upgrade over Patrick Kugler.
• Junior guard Michael Onwenu: Breakout potential is there for Onwenu, but he needs to work hard to fight off the challengers behind him, namely Stephen Spanellis. Onwenu is the clear favorite to start at right guard, but use a pencil, not a pen, to mark him in the Notre Dame lineup. Michigan should have a very good interior offensive line.
• Redshirt junior tackle Jon Runyan Jr.: After riding the bench for most of 2017, Runyan Jr. has stepped up since bowl practices to establish himself at the guy at right tackle. He appears to be the strong favorite to earn the starting job. If he does indeed start and can be an above-average tackle, that will be a nice boost for the Wolverines.
• Redshirt freshman tackle James Hudson: After switching over last year from defensive line, Hudson has come on strong this spring and is challenging Bushell-Beatty at left tackle. There's still a lot of room for growth, and while he may not start against Notre Dame, there's a solid chance he takes over at some point during the season. He's one of the key guys on the entire roster to watch in August. A strong summer camp could force the coaches to make the switch.
• Redshirt sophomore guard/tackle/center Stephen Spanellis: Spanellis is Michigan's do it all man. He can play every position on the line and can even serve as a blocking tight end. That versatility will allow him to get on the field this season whether as a starter or backup. He's the top backup at center, right guard and right tackle right now and is pushing Onwenu hard. Even if he doesn't start, he will prove to be extremely valuable this season — especially if the Wolverines suffer any injuries.
• Sophomore tackle Andrew Steuber: Another young lineman, Steuber has battled hard at both tackle spots this spring and put himself in the mix at left tackle. It's difficult to say how much he will play this season, but summer camp will be critical. His time may not come until 2019.
• Redshirt junior tackle Grant Newsome: Newsome still hasn't been cleared to practice and is hopeful he can play eventually this year, but at this point we're still in wait and see mode with the big tackle. Using a medical redshirt is still a possibility.
• Redshirt freshman tackle Chuck Filiaga: Filiaga is in the rotation at tackle and fits in as the eighth or ninth guy on the line. He'll serve as a backup this fall.
• Redshirt junior tackle Nolan Ulizio: After starting part of last season at right tackle, Ulizio has not been mentioned at all this spring. He figures to be buried on the depth chart, but could play some right tackle in a pinch.
• Redshirt freshman tackle Joel Honigford: Still developing, Honigford will serve as depth this fall. He probably won't play much in 2018, but it will still be a big year for him on the practice field.
Quotes On/From The Offensive Line
• "[Sophomore] Cesar Ruiz is in there at center and has separated himself — he and [junior] Ben Bredeson are our two best offensive linemen. [Redshirt junior] Jon Runyan has also asserted himself, and [fifth-year senior] Juwann Bushell-Beatty is having a very good spring. [Redshirt freshmen] James Hudson and Chuck Filiaga are both growing rapidly, and are poised to separate themselves — [junior] Mike Onwenu is another guy who could do that." — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh
• “Our offensive line looks different — they’re starting to get that look of offensive linemen. [Strength and conditioning coach] Ben Herbert has done an outstanding job in the weight room, and you’re starting to see the results of that.” — Jack Harbaugh
• “As an offense, I think we’ve gotten a little bit of a swagger this spring,” Bredeson said. “Everybody’s got a bit of an attitude and I think we’ve been playing a lot better than I’ve seen in the past.
“It’s a don’t back down attitude. We have a chip on our shoulder, we weren’t the strongest point of the team last year. We’re sick of hearing that, so we’re done with that.” — Ben Bredeson
• “Cesar is doing really well. He’s growing up, learning the offense a lot better, making calls, being assertive. He’s playing very physical this spring, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.” — Bredeson
• “We’re a work in progress, not a finished product at all, but I think everyone would say a lot of progress has been made. The defense would tell you that, the offensive linemen would tell you that; the coaches will, as well. I like where we’re at, where we’re headed … we just have to keep going.
"I think we can be a very solid Big Ten offensive line.” — Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner
• “One thing l like to do is watch them, evaluate them and try to get into the right spots as soon as possible,” Warinner said. “Injuries might force us to move around, and we’ll have guys who can work at several positions. Steve Spanellis, for one, can play center, guard and multiple positions. He’s a smart kid." — Warinner
• “Andrew Stueber can play guard or tackle, and we’re doing some of that with him. James Hudson’s coming around, a guy that moved over from defense. He has a high ceiling, a lot of upside … not a starter, but a kid that redshirted last year, was a defensive player, now is in the mix to be in the two-deep and play for us.” — Warinner
• “We need a big season from the offensive line. Everybody is always talking trash about us how we can’t block anyone. It’s annoying and pisses us off so we don’t want that anymore, so we’re going to play every down like it’s our last.” — Jon Runyan Jr.
• “Cesar is phenomenal for only being a sophomore. He’s one of the most athletic centers I’ve ever seen. He’s big, strong, powerful, looking forward to what he can do.” — Runyan Jr.
• "Former offensive lineman after former offensive lineman has said it, and Harbaugh has stated it as well: the Wolverines need to be more physical, particularly up front. That's been on display in the spring, Warinner directing the show and simultaneously calling out individuals while teaching on the spot and making corrections. The expectations for this group are high, and there's no allowance for 'too young,' or 'still growing.' It's time to step up and get it done.
"Michigan's best two offensive linemen — left guard Ben Bredeson and sophomore center Cesar Ruiz — are doing just that. They're going to be very solid in the middle of the Michigan offensive line. Elsewhere, there are tight battles, with redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanellis pushing junior Michael Onwenu hard at right guard. Right now, fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty and redshirt junior Jon Runyan look like the lead dogs at left and right tackle, respectively, but players such as redshirt freshmen Andrew Steuber, James Hudson and Chuck Filiaga are pushing very hard. Bushell-Beatty could eventually wind up back at right tackle, and some of these fights will extend into the fall." — ITF Extra from April 12th
• “[Grant Newsome]’s a player-coach. I ask Grant something, and he’s the smartest guy in the room. Not me … he is. I’ll say, ‘Grant, what should we do here?’ Really, he is very involved, sits in the meetings and does his rehab.
“I think everything is going right on target there the way it should be right now, but he contributes right now in a positive way. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t just know about ‘a and b.’ He also knows ‘c, d, e, and f.’” — Warinner
• “I’m very impressed with him. He’s young, but he’s going to be really good there. He understands football very well. He’s very powerful, plays with a good base and has quick feet for center. He kind of has the whole package.
“I have two starting centers in the NFL, both as rookies, and he has the ability to someday get to that point. I know what that looks like because I’ve coached them. He could be really good.” — Warinner
• “You don’t like hearing that [criticism]. As offensive linemen, when everyone is blaming everything on you, it’s just not something you want to hear. You keep hearing it and hearing it and it motivates you. They’re not going to say it about us this year, I can guarantee that. That’s our mindset, they’re not going to point fingers at us.” — Cesar Ruiz
• "Bushell-Beatty has improved a lot, and the offensive line has been pretty good … at times. There are still some, however, who believe the top five will consist of guys more suited to play interior line across the board, perhaps pushing Bredeson back out to left tackle and having redshirt sophomore Stephen Spanelllis on the interior line with junior Mike Onwenu at the other guard and sophomore Cesar Ruiz at center.
"Nothing that happens in spring is set in stone. As of now, Spanellis seems to solidly be the No. 6 guy." — ITF from April 13th
• "We've been touting redshirt freshman tackle James Hudson throughout the offseason, having heard good things about him from a number of sources. From what we're hearing now, he's getting close to pulling even with fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty at left tackle. That's a major fight going on there, with the younger performer continuing to advance. It's to the point, according to some, that the reps going forward could be evenly split.
"On the other side, redshirt junior Jon Runyan is performing well enough that he'd make it tough for anyone to take that spot away. Michigan is looking at a solid eight players who are game ready heading for fall camp, and that's an acceptable number any year." — ITF Extra from April 15th
Left Tackle: Juwan Bushell-Beatty
Left Guard: Ben Bredeson
Center: Cesar Ruiz
Right Guard: Michael Onwenu
Right Tackle: Jon Runyan Jr.
More Spring Reviews From The Wolverine
• Talk about this article inside The Fort
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, The Wolverine
• Like us on Facebook