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Published: Friday, 11/11/2011

Michigan line to be tested

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, shown with coach Brady Hoke, could have his hands full against national sack leader Mercilus Whitney (11.5) and Michael Buchanan (six) of Illinois this week. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, shown with coach Brady Hoke, could have his hands full against national sack leader Mercilus Whitney (11.5) and Michael Buchanan (six) of Illinois this week.
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ANN ARBOR -- Finally, David Molk had heard enough.

Molk's teammate, Michigan sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan, was complaining incessantly at a recent practice, lamenting his pain from one injury or another. He was wearing a boot, and a cast on his wrist. His elbow was throbbing, and he was cursing up a storm.

Molk, the senior center, isn't a sympathetic type. His message to Lewan: Zip it and the pain will subside.

"And it really worked," Lewan said. "I stopped talking about it and I stopped not trying to limp and just keep going. If you keep going things will work out."

Michigan needs desperately for Lewan to keep going. Already missing starting left guard Ricky Barnum to two bad ankles, the line's health is a main concern going forward, particularly on Saturday when they'll see one of the most productive defensive fronts in college football at Illinois. The Illini (6-3, 2-3) rank second in the nation with 31 sacks, and Lewan could have his hands full with national sack leader Mercilus Whitney (11.5) and Michael Buchanan (six). Both of them recorded a sack in the last game, a 10-7 loss at Penn State two weeks ago that was Illinois' third straight setback after a 6-0 start.

The 12 sacks allowed by Michigan ranks 28th nationally.

"People look at [Whitney] and they overlook [Buchanan]," Lewan said. ... "They're real good. I'm real excited to go against them."

On a unit with a scarcity of game-ready players, an injury to Lewan would set off a harrowing domino effect, one that coach Brady Hoke admitted he and his staff weren't prepared to handle if necessary in last Saturday's loss at Iowa.

After rattling off a couple of possible contingency plans, Hoke paused and said, "it would have been interesting." That's the way it goes for a team with just 10 scholarship linemen, two of which Hoke is trying to redshirt.

Barnum is on the mend and could return Saturday, but if not, it will be Michael Schofield manning the spot next to Lewan once again. As for Lewan, despite his exhausting list of ailments, he hasn't missed game time and stresses that "he's hurt, not injured."

In fact, Lewan's played even beyond what's been expected of him, drawing personal foul penalties in each of the past two weeks and relapsing into a repeated issue from last year.

"Thankfully, it hasn't really affected us as a team yet," Lewan said, "but I need to know that now before I actually do affect the team."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.



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