Michigan football team could turn to freshman offensive lineman, even if it would prefer not to
Cleveland Plain Dealer
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."