Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Season Preview, part 2 - Offensive Line

I've held off on writing this portion of the preview for one simple reason...I don't know that I have any real insight or perspective to add. I know, I know - the offensive line is absolutely critical to any offense, particularly in the case of a team that likes to run the ball. That's absolutely true and (probably) provable in any number of ways...but most of those ways involve the breaking down of film, Ron Jaworski style, and I just ain't gonna do it. I make a point to watch the line during a game, but I'm not rabid about it, and it certainly doesn't extend to the level of watching each player on each play. It's more of a general sense and the occasional "wow, Jake Long really buried the end on that one" comment, or being able to tell when and how a play really gets blown up by a missed block.

With all of that said, I can read the previews and coach comments as well as anyone else, so here goes. Once again using my patented Sesame Street Terror Alert Scale:

Left Tackle - Jake Long

Obviously, I'm not adding anything new here - he's the best player on the team, perhaps in the Big Ten. I'm already missing him.

Left Guard - Adam Kraus

Also a terrific player, but a notch below his partner on the left side.

Center - Justin Boren

I think that if you graphed my level of worry / confidence level across the line from left to right you'd get a straight line. Long is the high point, Kraus a little bit lower, Boren a little bit lower, and...we'll get to the other two. None of which is a knock on Boren, of course. That he played and started (albeit as an injury replacement) as a true freshman at Michigan is very, very impressive. That he didn't look totally overwhelmed is even more so. A future All-American, but he's not there yet.

Right Guard - Alex Mitchell

...continuing down the line and down the trend, Mitchell was generally okay last year, although next to Ruben Riley anyone would have looked generally okay. He's a serviceable guy, probably not in any danger of making All-Conference or playing in the NFL unless he takes a huge step forward. Ciulla may work in here as well.

Right Tackle - Steve Schilling

This one is the real unknown, in my opinion. Schilling was OMG Shirtless coming out of high school, so there's that, and the buzz this summer has been very good. I suspect that he'll be okay and potentially an All-American, but until there's proof, it's the one worry on the offense...except for:

Offensive Coaching - Mike DeBord et al

Look, this team is absolutely loaded offensively, and there's really no reason they shouldn't be able to blow people off the turf. Not only that, but they've shown an ability to do so, when they take the shackles off and attack. But they just don't think that way here. Offensively, we think the way we thought about defense two years ago - that talent will out. And it will, most of the time - but why not PLAY that way? Like we're actually more talented than the other guys? If Michigan loses any games at all this season, I guarantee you - we'll look back at the games and ask why we didn't attack more offensively. That's going to be the case as long as Debord and Lloyd are in charge.

Don't misunderstand me - I love Lloyd, and I have NEVER been one of "those" guys. And I never will. I want him to stay as long as he wants. But let's be serious here - some of the most painful losses under his tenure have been due to conservative offensive game planning. We've gotten beaten a few times by superior teams - USC in 2004, Texas in 2005, Tennessee in 2002 - but come on. Nebraska in 2006? Ohio State, several times? Most of the 2005 season? I'll go to my grave knowing we were better but couldn't get out of our own way.

UPDATE: Several nuggets from the Tuesday press conference impact ratings above - Mitchell's injury might move the right guard position into "Ernie" territory until things more info comes available, and the nearly constant Schilling love - even partnered with the "it's wide open" comments - eases my mind a lot and might push right tackle into "Cookie Monster." I'm leaving things as is for now.

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