Ricky Barnum, University of Michigan football player.
ANN ARBOR -- Ricky Barnum doesn't see the idea of making a position change as a challenge. Instead, Barnum looks at it as another lesson in adaptation.
Barnum, a fifth-year senior on the Michigan football team, will move from offensive guard to center but will do so with only nine games of experience in the last three years, after redshirting in his freshman year with the Wolverines.
"It's not much of a learning curve, because I've been in the offense for four years," Barnum said. "And David Molk helped me along the line, so it really wasn't a hard transition."
Some would believe the challenge that faces Barnum is the mere fact that he's replacing Molk, who arguably set a certain standard for playing center at Michigan. Molk was named an All-American as a senior and won the 2011 Rimington Trophy as the top center in Division I (FBS) football before the San Diego Chargers selected him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft in April.
Those are lofty accolades to live up to. But Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges sees similarities between Barnum and Molk, though Molk refined those attributes, in part because he had the experience of playing center.
"Ricky is still developing in the position, but with no less skill set," Borges said Tuesday at Schembechler Hall. "He really can do some of the things David did. He's not going to do them quite as good, because David played so much. But I think in time, he can do them as good."
At this point, time is of the essence for the adjustment. Michigan's season opener Sept. 1 against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, approaches, and Barnum has little collegiate experience at center. Furthermore, the 6-foot-3, 296-pound converted center from Lakeland, Fla., battled ankle problems last year, which limited him to four games.
Still, Borges said Barnum has taken an open-minded approach to move and to a position that is about more than just the characteristic offensive line responsibilities of blocking and tackling. Likewise, centering the offensive line is about more than just snapping the ball into the hands of the quarterback. It's a certain choreography of timing, maintaining communication with not just the offensive line but with the offense as a whole, and preparing to protect the quarterback after the ball is snapped.
"Specifically speaking, he's able to execute that which goes into the position, whether it's zone blocking, pulling, doing all the things that are prerequisites of playing center in our offense, and he's capable of that," Borges said. "When we went about addressing that a year ago, his name was a logical choice."
And, Borges said, the Wolverines won't change things because of one personnel change.
"We're still running the same plays, the same offense and the same things with, really, the same expectations," Borges said. "We're not going to lower the bar any, but understanding that this is his first time playing the position. With that comes some growing pains, but we're not going to change anything because of our center."
Borges said the offensive line has responded in kind to Barnum's move. So has Barnum himself.
"He's kind of embraced it," Borges said. "And he had, from the time we posed it to him. I said this before, he fits that position better than he did playing guard. He's a smart kid, and that's huge for that position because a lot goes into it, with the calls and all that."
Barnum explained the expectations that come not just from playing center, but in being on the offensive line at Michigan.
"If you're at Michigan, there's a tradition of linemen that are tough and physical when it comes to playing football," said Barnum, who graduated in April with a degree in Afro-American and African studies and is beginning graduate studies in Michigan's social work program. "That's something that I have to fulfill and I have to embrace."
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