Spring preview: Michigan trying to patch up O-line after loss of David Molk, Mark Huyge
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football team had lost two of three games as it prepared to face Illinois last year, then was slated to close with a difficult two-game homestretch.
It was the Wolverines' easiest remaining matchup, and a must-win if they were to chase whispers of another collapse. Yet, they came out flat for pregame warmups. They got Molk'd.
"We got in the locker room, and I took the entire offense over to the side and ripped them a new one," center David Molk said in December. "It just needed to happen."
The Wolverines won that game.
See, for as much as the Wolverines are going to miss their Rimington Award-winning center for his four years of starting experience and unrivaled play, they are going to miss his presence just as much.
What they lose
It starts with Molk, both because of his stature and his position. He anchored an offensive line that paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers and the Big Ten's No. 2 ground attack last year. He rarely missed assignments, and had tremendous anticipation. He also was the emotional and vocal leader of the offense.
Michigan also loses right tackle Mark Huyge. He was not a star, but became a solid presence who made few mistakes. He joined Molk as the line's most intelligent players.
What they have back
Junior left tackle Taylor Lewan is the leader of the group, and a possible first-day pick in the NFL Draft before it's all over. He has the size (6-foot-8, 302 pounds) and the tenacity to become one of the country's best tackles and, entering his third year as a starter, could be primed for a breakout season. His only weakness is his discipline, but showed marked improvement there last year.
From there, there is a drop-off in talent. Senior right guard Patrick Omameh, who will be a senior, is entering his third year as a starter but has yet to put it all together. He improved down the stretch last year, but must work on his pulling.
Michael Schofield played admirably in place of oft-injured left guard Ricky Barnum last year, but likely will slide to right tackle next season to replace Huyge. Barnum is back, although his position is uncertain. He might be inserted back at left guard, although it's possible he will to center.
The top reserves will be redshirt freshman Chris Bryant and redshirt senior Elliott Mealer, while true freshman Kyle Kalis could enter the mix, as well.
Identify a center and figure out a way to get the best five guys on the field at once.
The center candidates appear to be senior Rocko Khoury, who struggled in the Sugar Bowl when Molk couldn't start due to injury, but has a good grasp of the playbook; redshirt freshman Jack Miller, who might have the most talent of the bunch but needs to add strength to become the regular; and Barnum, who has never played the position but has ideal size at 6-foot-3, 292 pounds.
Lots of options, and none of them will fill the void left by Molk. Along with repairing the defensive line, this will be of top priority to Michigan brass.
Elsewhere, coach Brady Hoke, offensive coordinator Al Borges and offensive line coach Darrell Funk must find a way to get the best five players on the field. That could mean playing Barnum, who will be a fifth-year senior, at left guard and Schofield at right tackle. Or, it could mean Barnum plays center, if Miller and Khoury are not serviceable there, and a freshman such as Kalis plays guard.
Those appear to be the two most-likely scenarios at this point, but don't expect much more to be known for a while. Those competitions likely will remain open well into fall camp.