Holding the Line: 2007 Preview
Michigan's Offensive Line (coached by Andy Moeller) performed well for most of 2006 before experiencing substantial difficulties in the season's final two games (i.e., OSU & USC). The unit opened up big enough holes for Mike Hart and the other running backs to allow the 2006 Wolverines to rush for over 2,000 yards during the regular season. This marked the first time since 2003 that the team had reached that plateau. The O-Line was also effective in pass protection yielding only 14 sacks in the first 11 games of the season before giving up ten (10) in the final two contests of the year.
Michigan had amazing consistency on the O-Line in 2006 as the Wolverines were able to employ the same starting line-up for the first eight (8) games of the season before an injury to RG Rueben Riley forced a shift on the line for week nine versus Northwestern. The upside, however, was it allowed Justin Boren an opportunity to start. Rueben Riley returned for week 10 against Ball State and the regular line-up returned for the remainder of the season. Thus, the starting five played twelve of the thirteen games together as a starting unit. From left to right the line-up was as follows: LT Jake Long; LG Adam Kraus; C Mark Bihl; RG Alex Mitchell; RT Rueben Riley.
In 2007, three of the 5 starters from last year's highly successful O-Line return. The returnees are: All-American Jake Long, All-Big 10 Adam Kraus, and Alex Mitchell. The projected two new starters are Justin Boren and Steve Schilling. Boren (So.) is slotted to play center while Schilling (So./Fr.) will take over at right tackle. Boren is a left-hander and has been working with QB Chad Henne to develop a smooth snap transition as Henne has received snaps from a right-handed center for the past three seasons. Boren started the Northwestern game last season at RG and became only the fourth Michigan true freshman to start a game on the offensive line. Meanwhile, Schilling battled mononucleosis for much of last season and missed the entire 2006 season. With his injury problems hopefully behind him, Schilling is looking to do big things as part of the starting unit in 2007. The new starting unit can be potentially more effective than last year's version as Mitchell will be improved with a year's worth of experience under his belt and Schilling is much more athletic than Rueben Riley while Boren is outstanding and should be able to fill the void left by the very capable Bihl. For a closer look, read on:
- Left Tackle: Jake Long was team co-Captain in 2006 and was a consensus All-American choice for his efforts on the offensive line. Long led the way for the Wolverines last season as Michigan compiled a 11-2 record and he decided to return to play for Michigan as a Fifth-year Senior in 2007. This was great news for both QB Chad Henne and the Wolverines' ball carriers. Long (6'7", 313 lbs.) protects Chad Henne's blind-side from oncoming rushers as Long plays Left Tackle and Henne is a right-handed quarterback. Long is also the Wolverines go-to player on running plays as Michigan will invariably will run to his side of the field because the coaches know Long will create a hole for the runner. Long is projected as a top-5 pick in next year's NFL draft.
- Left Guard: Adam Kraus was named All-Big 10 by the media in 2006 in recognition of his play at Left Guard. He started all 13 games last season at LG and is returning in 2007 as a Fifth-year Senior for another year of holding down the left side of the line with Jake Long. Kraus (6'6", 296 lbs.) also started 9 games on the offensive line as a junior in 2005. The New Orleans native missed spring drills in March, 2007 because of off-season surgery but he hopes to be back to full-strength in the fall.
- Center: Justin Boren has the task of replacing the veteran Mark Bihl. Boren (So.) early-enrolled at Michigan in January 2006 (along with Carlos Brown) so that he could get a jump on preparing for his freshman season. His hard work paid off last season as he started the Northwestern game at Right Guard and became only the fourth player in Wolverine history to start a game on the offensive line as a true freshman. The left-hander is now slotted to start as a Sophmore at the Center position. The wunderkind Boren (6'3", 310 lbs.) will be playing next to two fifth-year seniors in Long and Kraus who will be on the left side of the line.
- Right Guard: Alex Mitchell started all thirteen games last season (12 at RG, one at RT) and is returning in 2007 at Right Guard. Mitchell (Sr./Jr.) was the new guy to the unit last season but in 2007 he will be anchoring the right side of the line and will be positioned between two newcomers (Boren at Center and Steve Schilling at RT). At 6'5", 313 lbs., Mitchell remains an imposing figure for defenders to have to deal with on the right side of the line. Prior to the final Spring Practice session, Coach Carr commented that, "First of all, I think he's in a lot better condition. He went through the process of trying to find his ideal weight, and as a young player you come in with the mentality of bigger is better. He learned a lot a year ago. There were a lot of lessons to be learned. So I think he's made very good progress." With all the experience he gained last season and with two years of eligibility remaining, Mitchell is bound to be a Wolverine great by the time he leaves Michigan.
- Right Tackle: Steve Schilling (So./Fr.) missed the entire 2006 season due to mononucleosis and shoulder surgery but he is back and ready for the 2007 season. Schilling (6'5", 297 lbs.) has never seen any collegiate game action yet is slotted to be the starting Right Tackle in 2007 taking the place of the departed Rueben Riley. Schilling was limited for the first couple of weeks of Spring Practice but was cleared for full contact drills by the conclusion of Spring Practice in the second week of April. Prior to the final Spring Practice session, Coach Carr commented that, "As far as some of the younger players, Steve Shilling has been cleared to play this week with full contact, and I've been very impressed with what I've seen from him." Schilling is known for his athleticism and that will help him as he learns the ropes as he has never even played a down. Nevertheless, the Wolverines expect big things from him in 2007.
So there you have it. The (projected) starting five on the O-Line for the 2007 season. It looks like Chad Henne will not have to worry about being sacked many times this year while Mike Hart can look forward to a 2,000 yard rushing season! Go Blue!
*Note: Photo of Chad Henne (7) in the pocket created by Jake Long (77), Adam Kraus (57), Justin Boren (65) and Alex Mitchell (on far left of picture) from 10/28/06 game vs. Northwestern by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News
Labels: Offensive Line