Longtime reserve Elliott Mealer emerges as likely starter at left guard for Michigan football team
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Ten days before the season opener against Alabama, he appears to have his guy.
"Elliott Mealer has really done a nice job," Hoke said Tuesday during a news conference at Schembechler Hall. "If we were playing tomorrow, he'd be the guy.
"His work ethic, his leadership, the maturation process -- I'm really excited for Elliott as much as anything else, and for our football team."
Michigan replaced departed seniors David Molk (center) and Mark Huyge (right tackle) this offseason by moving their top two left guards, with senior Ricky Barnum sliding to center and junior Michael Schofield to right tackle.
Left guard, in turn, became one of the Wolverines' most critical position battles because they rely so heavily on the running game and their new-look offensive line needs time to gel.
Mealer was thought to be the leader in spring camp, but sophomore walk-on Joey Burzynski came on strong and began working with the first unit. He started the spring game.
Mealer, though, appears to have retaken control of that position with the season opener looming next week.
"He's playing faster," Hoke said. "I think he's playing with better technique. When you look at pad level and those things, he's finishing things better. I really believe it's more confidence. His confidence is at a high level."
Mealer committed to Michigan as a highly regarded recruit from Wauseon, Ohio, but was forced to redshirt his first season after tearing his right rotator cuff. He developed into a utility man the past three years, bouncing from guard to tackle, left side to right.
But he never cracked the lineup.
Now a fifth-year senior, he's on the verge of doing just that.
"It's been an amazing opportunity," Mealer said at the team's media day earlier this month. "Coming to the University of Michigan as an offensive lineman, you know what the expectations are coming into it. The great players, the incoming freshmen all the way to the seniors, there's always great competition at Michigan for any position.
"For me, I'm getting pushed by guys that I'm playing next to. The expectation is for the position, I'm working hard and expecting nothing but the best."
Mealer is poised to join an offensive line that features junior Taylor Lewan at left tackle, Barnum at center, senior Patrick Omameh at right guard and Schofield at right tackle.
Barnum and Schofield will make their first career starts at their respective positions when Michigan opens against Alabama. Mealer is expected to join them.
Freshman Kyle Kalis, another candidate at left guard, appears to have finished third in that job battle but could still factor into the offensive line rotation.
"He's not well back -- there's competition up front," Hoke said. "He's part of that competition, Joey is part of that competition. (Offensive line coach) Darrell (Funk) has done some things moving them around a little bit, trying to find those seven or eight guys who will fit and can play a lot of positions."