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Posted on Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Michigan football team could turn to freshman offensive lineman, even if it would prefer not to

By Kyle Meinke


Could a freshman offensive lineman such as Kyle Kalis, left, play next year for Michigan? It's rare, but the Wolverines' depth woes could call for it.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

The best thing to happen in Taylor Lewan's development at Michigan wasn't getting his first crack at the field, nor was it the first time he was penciled into a starting lineup.

It wasn't even the arrival of coach Brady Hoke, although that surely helped.

In fact, it involved not playing at all.

"Redshirting was the best thing that ever happened to me at the University of Michigan," Lewan said last week. "But I also came in at 250 pounds, 260 pounds, so it was a good year for me to get my weight up, my strength up and learn. Watch Mark Ortmann, watch Steve Schilling, watch Dave Molk. So that helped me a lot."

Lewan was good enough the following year to wrestle the starting left tackle job from then-junior Mark Huyge. He was good enough to start 22 of a possible 26 games the past two seasons, good enough to earn preseason All-America attention entering his junior season.

And a player so precocious still calls getting a redshirt the best thing to happen to him.

That illustrates just how difficult it is to play offensive line as a true freshman. In fact, none have done it for the Wolverine since Justin Boren six years ago.

Now, the harsh reality for Michigan: It might be forced to play a true freshman, whether it wants to or not.

The Wolverines have lost Molk, the best center in the country last year, and Huyge, a steady hand at right tackle.

Michigan addressed those voids by moving their top two left guards, with senior Ricky Barnum sliding to center and junior Michael Schofield to right tackle.

So, who starts at left guard?

One candidate -- perhaps the current leader for the post -- is Joey Burzynski, a sophomore walk-on who emerged from anonymity to start the spring game with the first unit.

"I think Joey’s got some leverage, naturally, that’s pretty good," Hoke said last week. "He’s smart, he’s tough."

But is the walk-on capable of being a Big Ten starter, or is he just a stop-gap until Michigan has a better option?

"Yeah, (he's starter quality)," Hoke said. "He’s got good fundamentals, good techniques, he’s got a nice leverage. He’s a pain -- which is good."

Burzynski beat out fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer for the left guard spot in the spring game, but Mealer still is expected to contend for the position this fall.

"He’s a redshirt senior -- he’s seen a lot of game time, he’s done a lot of things," Lewan said. "He was our sixth-, seventh-man last year. He knows what he’s doing."

The most intriguing candidate of all, though, could be true freshman Kyle Kalis.

The 6-foot-5, 292-pound lineman from Lakewood, Ohio, is considered the most college-ready player of the freshmen linemen, and could be an option to provide depth -- or even start, if circumstances dictate it.

Hoke didn't single out Kalis, but did say he would have no problem turning to a freshman, and has done it before. He also isn't sugar coating the realities of such a move.

"The toughest thing for any high school kid is protection," he said. "That's the hardest deal. What are the protections? Are you sliding? Are you sliding strong? What's a double-read? Now put the fundamentals in front of that. So, that's the hardest thing."

Lewan was asked for what piece of advice he gives freshmen who wish to play early.

"I would just tell them that when you come to college, it’s way more complex than high school," he said. "You’re not just playing high school football, where you just kind of lay on somebody and they move out of the way. You have to have technique, you have to have all these things.

"But while you’re learning all of that stuff, you just need to go. Just go 100 percent as aggressively as possible, and I think you’ll be successful."

If a freshman does play, mistakes will be made -- that's the nature of a position so cerebral. The bright side of that process, though?

"They'll get older," Hoke said with a smile. "If we start a freshman against Alabama, by November, he’ll be a pretty good football player."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.


Steve McQueen

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:46 a.m.

When is AA going to do an article on Pipkins?


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Ideally. Michigan wants to be in the position to be able redshirt all their offensive and defensive linemen. That's not always possible - especially in the aftermath of a coaching change. Michigan was depleted in O-linemen when Hoke came in. So I wouldn't be surprised at all if Kalis plays this year.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Jake Long also redshirted then played for 4 full years. Back in the 80s, Skrepenak redshirted, and the list goes on. These are guys who were great linemen, proving that the redshirt year is valuable in a lot of ways. I think the lack of linemen may be one of the biggest bad legacies left over from the prior coach, who just didn't believe that you needed these guys.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

that is the biggest legacy rr left as far as personell goes. lack of O and D linemen. Lewan was a gem he did find but not much depth or #'s since he took so many slot receivers.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Michigan has nabbed six O lineman ranked higher than Lewan in the 2012 and 2013 classes. A couple more recruits are talented 4 stars ranked lower than Lewan, but bigger than he was coming in. Six of them already weigh around 300 lbs or more. An entire red shirt freshman year for a guy like Kalis is unnecessary, even Magnuson is up to 285. The normal freshman rule doesn't apply because we would never have gotten this many top lineman if it wasn't know there would be openings to play right away. The quicker guys like Kalis and Magnuson get on the field the better. Guys like Fox, Tilman, Dawson, Bosh , and Kuglar will be ready to start and star long before Kalis and Magnuson have graduated. Certainly no reason to prolong that.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

true SOME could play early IF they pick up the protection and the schemes. but STILL not many will have college level strength in their first year. it is better for them in the long run if they can red shirt. but I do expect a few of them to be in the 2 deep by mid season at the latest. ESPECIALLY if we have injuries.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

I have to respectfully disagree. A guy's weight isn't the only factor in redshirting. Now I'm not saying that they will redshirt Kalis, but offensive lineman is one of the hardest transitions right out of high school. Here is why: 1) O-lineman need to have a lot of strength (not just weight) and a true freshman has never been a college workout program (unless they early enrolled). Even the strongest of true freshman are still behind where they should be. 2) They come from high school where a lot of D-lineman they face are 60 - 70lbs less then them. It is hard to get them prepared to facing people their size or bigger on a play by play basis. 3) The protection, schemes, slides, and reads are a lot more difficult in college then high school ball. High school you typically have very basic reads and protections and you mainly just block what is in front of you. This is especially going to be hard since they are going to have less then a month on the practice field before the 1st game. 4) The defensive schemes are going to be so much more complex then a typical freshman has ever seen. Alabama is going to be sending all different kinds of packages at us, and that will be hard for any person that has had 3-4 weeks of practices with the team to stop. Now if Hoke thinks Kalis or another freshman can help us win right away then by all means get him out there. But you don't ever play a guy just because you are recruiting good players for years to come or because a guy has a high recruiting profile.