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12 - The Michigan Daily - Kickoff '99 - Thursday, September 9, 1999
Thursday, September 9, 1999 -
They're among the best in the country. They average more than 290
pounds apeice. When they're at their best, they're Michigan's ...
By Rick Freeman Daily Sports Editor
i;t T T
'Tis the questionthat Lloyd Carr has dealt with since the Citrus Bowl victory last
Jalluary. Do you jo with the steady se}ior or the sophomore with unl }i}ited
poteiltial? The aBswer will Boa lon Dway toward tellitOrMichigan's fortunes.
By T.J. Berka N Daily Sports Editor
The roar increased with every
player he bumped into, every
yard he ate up. He barreled, head
down into a pile of men, shrugged
them aside, and elduded a second pair
of hands. When he was finally
brought down, the Michigan Stadium
crowd was on its feet, cheering a 35-
yard run by Michigan tailback
Few, if any, were looking back
upfield, where a mountain of a man
lifted himself off the grass.
He tested his foot.
Ow! He took a step, trying to put as
few of his 296 pounds on his foot as
possible. Still hurt.
The crowd's roar was dying down,
students began throwing marshmal-
They could just feel a touchdown
coming. Steve Hutchinson felt pain.
He limped to catch up with his
teammates, pooling off into a huddle.
No one, it seemed saw him.
No one ever sees him.
Steve Hutchinson is an offensive
lineman, a big kid who can hit and
stay invisible. He wants to stay invisi-
ble. An offensive linemen in the spot-
light is usually a bad thing. TV com-
mentators cluck their tongues and
draw their telestrator lines when line-
seems. But pay careful attention to
the anonymous men in the middle this
year. No talk of Michigan's suspect
secondary, or chitchat about who's
taking snaps (... can you name
Michigan's center?) can change one
unassailable truth: Michigan's offen-
sive line can be the root of all their
success,e or the center of their failure.
Unlike some areas of the game, this
one simply can't be ignored.
"I think they really can set the tone
for the entire season," said Michigan
coach Lloyd Carr before practice
began in August.
The same can be said of any team's
offensive line. It's an automatic issue..
Football at its very essence is lines.
Each play starts on one imaginary
line, with a more tangible line as its
A football team is at its heart one
very tangible line. Five invisible men
- who together would tax the haul-
ing capacity of a small pickup truck
- hit, pound and grind on each play
that they might remain unseen.
Together, Michigan's offensive line is
1,472 pounds of beef.
And utterly invisible.
This is the strength of the offensive
line - mistakes get noticed, success
Last year, Michigan's ground game
averaged 118.8 yards per contest. On
a team where the forward pass some-
times seems an endangered species,
this was no good.
This year, with a shortage of expe-
rienced running backs, Michigan's
offensive line will have to open holes
a little wider, protect Drew Henson
and Tom Brady a little longer.
As the season wears on, little atten-
tion gets paid to offensive linemen
unless one in particular has sheer
attention-grabbing bulk. Unless
there's an Aaron Gibson or an
Orlando Pace on the line, these guys
tend to stay below the radar of most
fans. Which is usually good - the
line is an issue usually left alone
unless the quarterback spends too
much time on his back.
Because their job - as a unit - is
so complicated and so crucial, experi-
enced offensive lines tend to fare bet-
Offensive lines are mechanical,
choreographed pieces of machinery
- some parts are intercahngeable,
some aren't. The good ones are made
up of players who have played togeth-
er with each other for a long time.
"It's a bunch of guys who are a lot
alike. We've got a few southerners on
the line, a couple of
If Anthony Thomas or Tom Brady make
a good play, everyone sees it. If
Michigan's offensive line - one of the
best in the country - executes to per-
fection, it stays invisible. But they can
be seen at work below.
Competition is a normal thing
on a football team. Every
position has two or three guys
who go through the punishment and
rigor of preseason practice, hoping
to finally emerge as 'the man.'
These competitions are immensely
important in how a team will per-
form in the season. Each position has
equal importance in the development
and effectiveness of the team.
But not all position battles are
treated the same. While the starting
center, left cornerback, and outside
linebacker are all key, none of those
positions have the appeal of a com-
petition at quarterback.
And Michigan certainly has a
On one hand is Tom Brady. A
fifth-year senior from San Mateo,
Calif., Brady comes across as a laid-
back 'Hang 10' dude.
For the most part, Brady is mellow.
But when times have been tough in
his Michigan career, Brady has
shown the toughness needed to be a
big-time college quarterback.
Brady "took charge out there,"
fullback Aaron Shea said. "He is the
senior and is always in control last
year. He wasn't going to be stopped."
The battle-tested fifth-year senior,
Brady finally got his shot at the
quarterback position last season.
Brady performed admirably, com-
pleting 61.1 percent of his passes for
2,636 yards in leading the
Wolverines to a 10-3 record and
Citrus Bowl victory.
"Brady is a battler," Michigan
coach Lloyd Carr said. "He knows
how to play, he knows what he's
doing out there and he commands the
respect of his teammates."
In most situations, that would be
enough for Carr to give Brady the
job, no questions asked. But Carr has
an ace up his sleeve, a sophomore
phenom named Drew Henson.
Henson is what one would call an
all-American boy. He set high school
records in football and in baseball in
Brighton, a town 15 minutes north of
Kingwood, Texas said. "Heck, I'd
even call Ben Mast a Southerner, and
he's from Ohio."
When your success means you get
ignored, it's easy to come together fast.
That bond is vital to an offensive
line. Each player has to know where
his teammates will be, and what he'll
be doing. It's a back-of-the-mind kind
of knowledge. While their conscious
deals with flattening the onrushing
defender, their subconscious knows
what their teammates are doing, and
whether turning a defender left or
right will help more.
The offensive lineman finds glory
in the places people don't look.
Success is tough to find on
paper, but if you're at a
game you can see it.
Just watch the guy pick-
ing himself up after
the big run.
men miss blocks and let the quarter- is unseen. And a good offensive line,
back get sacked. When running like the one Michigan has this sea-
games falter, the offensive line is to son, is the strength of any good
A run like Thomas' is purely his. At They have some catching
least, that's up to do.
THE RESERVES: Jonathan
Goodwin (6-4, 290), Maurice
Williams (6-5, 297), Adam
Adkins (6-3, 295), Todd Mossa
(6-3 296), Joe Denay (6-7,
He also was a starter on the
Brighton basketball team, an honors
student and a third-round draft pick
of the New York Yankees.
"Henson is one of 'the most
intriguing talents I have ever seen,"
So with that, the battle lines were
drawn. The game-toughened veteran
versus the youngster with unlimited
potential. The West Coast versus the
And Carr loves every minute of it.
"I wish I had this problem every
year," Carr said. "They are both
great people. Their teammates
respect them, their coaches respect
them, and they are both handsome as
While Carr - and various girls on
campus - may be in heaven when
thinking about the Michigan quarter-
backs - there is some concern on
how the two-headed quarterback
dilemma should be dealt with.
Should the Wolverines choose one
and go with him? Or should they
play them both? And how will Brady
and Henson react to whatever deci-
sion is made?
While Carr leaves everyone in the
dark about the first two questions,
Henson and Brady seem to be sup-
portive of whatever decision he
"I do want to play, don't get me
wrong," Henson said. "But Tom is a
very good quarterback and we are in
good hands either way. Besides,
when you are a backup you are just
one play from starting."
Despite the competition that is
going on, Brady and Henson are
friends off the field.
Both quarterbacks grew up in the
San Francisco area, making the 49ers
the team of choice for both. Both
players grew up idolizing Joe
Montana and tried to pattern their
games after him as kids.
"We talk about the 49ers a lot,"
Brady said. "I think they have a shot
to be pretty good this season. I grew
up in the Bay Area and loved watch-
ing Joe Montana."
"Joe Montana was my favorite
player," Henson said. "I idolized him
as a kid and wanted to be just like
Baseball is also a popular topic of
conversation among the signal-
While Henson pocketed a $2 mil-
lion signingabonus when he signed
with the Yankees last summer, he
Tom Brady will be hard to unseat. Brady
Big Ten co-championship, and a 45-31 C
isn't the only baseball player on the
Michigan football team.
Brady was an 18th-round draft
pick of the Montreal Expos out of
high school. While he has given up
his baseball career, he doesn't neces-
sarily give the title of the team's best
baseball player to Henson.
"He's good, but I'm not bad
myself," Brady said with a wry
smile. "Actually, he would be better
if he played for anyone but the
Yankees - like the Giants for
Even though they may root for dif-
ferent baseball teams, that doesn't
prevent Henson and Brady from talk-
ing about other things.
But while the signal-callers talk-
ing about everything from sports to
class to other worldly issues, there is
one subject which neither quarter-
back would touch with a 10-foot
"We never talk about the competi-
tion," Henson said. "Tom and I go
over strategy and things like that, but
we just don't discuss the quarterback
Their teammates discuss Henson
and Brady quite a bit. No, they don't
debate which one is better. They just
spout off to all who will listen about
how good both of them are.
"I feel comfortable with both of
them in the huddle," guard Steve
Hutchinson said. "They both come
into the huddle in complete control
of the situation. When they talk, we
In the opening game victory over
... Drew Henson has all the makings of a Michigan star. Henson is 6-foot-5, has
a rocket arm, and also plays minor league baseball for the New York Yankees.