Saturday, August 29, 2009
Coaches Corner: Offensive Line Concerns-
Coaches Corner: Offensive Line Concerns-
Please keep in mind that when discussing football and the assessment of football ability, there is always a chance of disagreement, error, or change of opinion. While it is logical to term such assessments as opinion, keep in mind that articles such as below are based on trained observation or expert opinion. There is always an error bar in judgments, even if minute. Assessments can change day-to-day among a football staff since performance levels can be so fluid. Consistency is the hallmark of champions.
This group of offensive linemen has improved more, and is now better, than we ever thought possible, especially after watching only seven of them during the spring practices of 2008. What this group has accomplished since last spring is remarkable. It is also a testament to their, and Coach Frey’s, hard work and dedication to improve. A train-wreck has turned into a somewhat successful venture.
Last spring, we did not believe this group would ever approach what they have accomplished (at least in practice). The worry, consternation, anxiety continued into the first few games of the season. But after the Toledo game, the offensive line really showed a remarkable improvement, again more so than we thought likely.
One concern remains: just how much room does this group have remaining for future improvement? Yes, you have a player like Schilling, who most agree will become very good. Then there is Ortmann, who has an opportunity to end his career as a very good lineman. But others, due to their limited physical ability, may be passed up by the younger players, once they get some experience. With the infusion of better athletes, maybe this offensive line will go from being okay/good to good/great. A side note: this group may be better at pass blocking than run blocking.
After watching the offensive linemen this spring and summer, we have concerns about this unit; here is why.
1) Most members (NOT ALL) of this group have topped out regarding room left for significant improvement. Regressing to the above point, this group is improved from last year and will be better than last year. But for UM to advance up the ladder, this unit needs to move forward even further, and this will come about by a change to the younger, more athletic players. This begs the question, when will the transformation occur?
2) The athletic ability of the o-line (or lack of) is going to be an issue against better defenses. Again, those who are athletic enough to compete against high-level defensive players are waiting in the wings.
3) For this unit to continue growing, the young guns (Barnum, Omameh, Washington), with their superior athletic ability, are going to need to play. This may hurt the biggest strength of the offensive line unit, namely the cohesion of all five o-line guys working in unison as a tight-knit group.
4) Teams with explosive defensive edge rushers will give the current o-line problems. Practice observation demonstrated a problem: that of our own defensive linemen such as Brandon Graham, dominating against the offensive line. Yes, we know a lot of teams do not have a Brandon Graham on their team, but they have players close to this ability level and similarly can create problems for the UM offensive line.
5) Teams with defensive tackles using a 1 or 3-technique will be tough for this group to handle.
6) Teams that use zone blitz packages, that correlate them with stunts, especially inside, will be tough on this unit.
7) Teams that angle, and blitz off the angle, will be tough on this unit.
Below is some perspective based on the UM offensive line play over the last 1 1/2 years and the possible scenarios into the future.
For this team to be successful, the offensive line has to be better than okay, and probably better than good. As of today, we are not sure the five starters can be better than okay or good. This observation gives cause to pause.
We have yet to see anyone get close to blocking B. Graham. We realize he is very good, but we will see some defensive ends close to his ability. M. Martin has been almost unblockable a times. Yes he is good, but we will see others as good as he is.
Some more things to ponder: yes, B. Graham and M. Martin can flat out play, but so can Gibson and Heywood at Ohio State, for example. Ethan Horton from Notre Dame is also a good 1-tech player. Martez Wilson’s blitzing can be very disruptive. The bottom line is Michigan is going to see good players and needs to get better not only this year, but continue to recruit and get more athletic offensive linemen.
Mobile quarterbacks are always important in this spread version of offense. But in our opinion, a primary source of help to an offensive line is the quarterback throwing the ball on time. That is what makes Brady so damn good. He does not hold onto the ball too long.
Again, the intent is not to be negative, this article intends to provide insights so that Michigan fans can keep expectations in line. We get a sense there is starting to be a movement by fans who think this team is going to be 10-3. Which is very possible, for sure. But it would take an awful lot of stars to line up perfectly for that to happen. Let us not set these guys up to fail with expectations that will be very difficult to meet.
In regards to expectations and reaching a max or ceiling, there is a difference between experience and talent. An example: Nick Sheridan has experience, which is valuable, and even though he is experienced his talent level is not near the ceiling available for D. Robinson or T. Forcier. Talent-wise Nick has probably maxed his ceiling, With all his positives, the truth is N. Sheridan cannot get the team to where it needs to be, that is, in line with traditional UM expectations.
So, back to one of the earlier premises, that the offensive line may be a year or two away. The young offensive linemen of Khoury, Washington, Lewan, Omameh, Barnum, and Schofield have higher ceilings than the current offensive linemen, in our opinion. They are better overall athletes. All have super quick feet and better overall movement skills. All of them already show on film the ability to bend their knees and play with better leverage than today's starters. They also show the long arms and quick hands that are important in zoning schemes.
The current offensive line group has improved tremendously and we believe the future is looking brighter, especially with Coach Frey’s mentoring. Greatness, the goal of all offensive lines, will be determined by athletic ability and hard work. Better feet and better athletes make for a better future.
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Written by CoachBt and ErocWolverine