Offensive line development will be one of the critical aspects of the 2014 Michigan team, especially with the loss of bookend tackles to graduation. Even the non-padded practices are important, head coach Brady Hoke said Thursday, in finding those willing to get down and dirty in the trenches.
One thing they're learning even without the pads on - they're going to go full speed.
"The one way you stay healthy going full speed is playing with really good technique," Hoke said. "The physical-ness isn't where we want it yet. I couldn't point out one guy who I thought was a great finisher.
"I think you look at [redshirt junior center] Graham [Glasgow] as much as anyone, in some ways. I think [redshirt sophomore right tackle] Ben [Braden] is getting better. But we're not near where we need to be. I think [line coach] Darrell Funk would tell you the same thing."
It's been years now since Michigan has had a dominant line, and last year's was simply bad far too often. Now, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are gone and redshirt sophomore left tackle/guard Erik Magnuson has been shelved from major contact following surgery. Redshirt freshman David Dawson is taking reps at left tackle and has potential at guard, while several other young guys are getting looks.
Magnuson was recently cleared to lose the device he was required to wear following shoulder surgery. He'll start working more on footwork, Hoke said, but there's a positive in that the underclassmen will get more reps.
"You know what you've got with Erik," Hoke said. "What do you have with these other guys? David could play both tackles. We're going to concentrate on just playing the left side. He can play at guard, also. He is athletic. David is just getting everything together, scheme-wise … you really like what you see, athletic-wise, from David Dawson. Body-wise, he can play both. [Freshman] Mason Cole has been a big plus in a lot of ways.
"Graham is so versatile, he has also played some tackle. We have kicked him out to left tackle a little bit because of his versatility and intelligence. The best five guys have to play, whatever that combination is. We're a long way from determining who those best five guys are."
The guard competition, meanwhile, remains healthy and "what it should be," Hoke said.
"[Redshirt junior] Jack Miller is floating in there a little bit at left guard, with [sophomore] Kyle Bosch. Having Mags out hurts a little bit, but [redshirt sophomore] Kyle Kalis has been good. It's really early, but you watch him come out to practice and how he practices, and fundamentally, he has taken a lot of pride in pushing himself to do it right. From a physical standpoint, he had a very good winter. You look at nutrition and everything that goes with it. I think he is doing a good job.
"You have a guy like Kalis who played a number of snaps, and Bosch played a number of snaps. From that standpoint, it has been a positive. We would like to have Magnuson out there, obviously. We would like to have all those guys healthy and playing. From that standpoint, Graham is the bell-cow in some ways, because of what he did a year ago and how much he played. And then, your center kind of becomes that anyway."
The most important step - and it's a big one - is finding a set of five to play together and develop chemistry.
"We'll probably try to do a little of that. The further we get down the road, we will evaluate," Hoke said. "The depth chart will be fluid on both sides of the ball, every position, through spring. We'll try to play some different guys together."