ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The ongoing search for the five best players along Michigan’s offensive line has resulted in some fierce competition up front in camp.
Battles at both tackles (and maybe even center) are expected to spill into Saturday’s season opener against East Carolina (Noon, Peacock), and the head-to-head in camp have not been without some hiccups, players admit.
“Right now it’s just growing pains,” fifth-year guard Trevor Keegan, penciled in to start on the left side, told reporters last week. “We haven’t played together. Right now it’s figuring out how each other plays on combo blocks, communication, (etc.).
“Obviously we got a bunch of guys coming from different schools, freshmen, and just all being on the same page is the main thing.”
Michigan’s run-heavy offense is rooted in gap schemes, with an emphasis on inside zone, putting plenty on the plate of the center and guards. As a result, communication is crucial — making it vital to find the right players at left and right tackle.
On the left side, fifth-year senior Karsen Barnhart and Arizona State transfer La’Darius Henderson are vying for the starting job. Both have experience playing at guard and tackle, but Henderson didn’t officially join the team until summer.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh praised the 6-foot-5, 316-pound Barnhart at the halfway point of camp, declaring him the best performing tackle.
“I’ve played with (Karsen) a lot these past three years,” Keegan said. “LD, he’s obviously a two-time captain and great person. They’re both playing at a high level and definitely going to help us.”
Meanwhile, the right tackle job very much remains a tossup between fifth-year senior Trente Jones and Stanford transfer Myles Hinton. Like Henderson, Hinton (injury) didn’t start practicing with the team until fall camp, making for a quick adjustment.
Still, Hinton appears to be pushing Jones for the job — setting the stage for potential alternating starts to open the season.
“Myles is a massive human being,” starting right guard Zak Zinter, an all-Big Ten player, said recently. “Just getting the b-blocks, double teams with him and footwork’s a little bit different from Trente, who is going to hit the hip.
“There definitely is some differences between ‘em, but both are hell of players.”
While both guards have to get used to playing next to some unfamiliar faces and play styles on the outside, there’s also the inside to worry about, too. Stanford transfer Drake Nugent is the frontrunner to start at center, bringing a smaller, stockier build (6-2, 301 pounds) than that of Olusegun Oluwatimi last season.
“It’s our job to go up there, know the the game plan and be fully confident that we’re all on the same page,” Keegan said of keeping the group in-sync. “I have no doubt that we’re going to be able to do that. Definitely (after) the first game, we’ll watch film together, the calls and work in the meeting rooms, too.”
Adding possible insult to injury, Michigan’s offensive line is expected to play in Week 1 without its coordinator and offensive line coach, Sherrone Moore, slapped with a one-game suspension from the NCAA investigation.
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