ANN ARBOR — The Michigan football team’s 2013 offensive line was, in a word, maligned.
It struggled to open up the holes for their running backs, and there were times when as a unit, it allowed their starting quarterback to get clobbered. It didn’t help that the second half of the season became a constant shuffle of interior linemen.
This year, there’s a different expectation of the Wolverines’ offensive line — and different faces on it.
With nine days left before Michigan’s season opener, Hoke said on Wednesday that he has solidified the bulk of his starting offensive line for Aug. 30 against Appalachian State.
Hoke projects St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Miller as his starting center against the Mountaineers, with Ben Braden at right tackle, freshman Mason Cole at left tackle, and Erik Magnuson at left guard.
Right guard, however, is still open. Hoke said the top candidates for the position are Joey Burzynski, Kyle Bosch, and Kyle Kalis. Kalis has been practicing in preseason camp at both left and right guard but played minimally in Saturday’s scrimmage because of a back injury.
“When you’re looking at consistency, I think Jack’s been consistent, I think Magnuson and Mason Cole have,” Hoke said. “But I think they’ve all worked extremely hard, and they’ve all improved themselves since the beginning of fall camp.”
Michigan’s offensive line lost left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Mike Schofield to the NFL, and the offensive line was a unit that took its lumps — Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked 20 times during a four-game stretch in the second half last season.
The unit hasn’t gone without criticism, and even Gardner stepped in to defend the unit.
“Those are young guys who don’t get a chance to go to the media and defend themselves, who don’t get a chance to redeem themselves,” Gardner said last month in Chicago. “I didn’t like that at all. It’s kind of like, kick a man when he’s down and he can’t defend himself.
“So I didn’t like that, the way that was handled by the media, but it’s their job. They feel that too, and they’re going to get a chance to redeem themselves.”
That redemption also means becoming a cohesive unit that can open holes for Gardner and UM’s running backs. During Saturday night’s scrimmage — a public tune-up two weeks before UM’s season opener — the offensive line still had to work to open holes for running backs Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith, and Drake Johnson.
“In terms of our O-line, I think their cohesiveness is growing,” Johnson said. “They’re becoming a unit, and that takes time for the line. They’re doing a great job with it, every day.
“By Appalachian State, they’ll be ready.”
Cohesion, Miller said last week, is the biggest difference between last year’s offensive line and this year’s offensive line.
“That’s not only on the offensive line but on the whole team scale,” said Miller, who will start in place of Graham Glasgow, who will serve a one-game suspension after pleading guilty in June to operating a vehicle while visibly intoxicated.
“This is the closest that I’ve seen this team since I’ve been here. That’s probably underestimated. We’ve done a good job through the offseason and here in camp putting a premium on that. I think it will pay off.”
Miller said he and the offensive line are aware of the doubts surrounding the unit. For them, it’s motivation.
“Our ability to stay together and to be a unit with a mantra of, ‘There are doubters,’ we’ve got to go do our job at a high level,” Miller said.
“And we know that. If we just keep focusing on the little things and trying to refine our technique, things will work out for us. Everyone’s got the ability.”
GOING WEST: Michigan announced on Wednesday that it scheduled a home-and-home series with Washington for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Michigan will play Sept. 5, 2020, at Washington in Seattle, and the Huskies will play Sept. 18, 2021, at Michigan in Ann Arbor.