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September 15, 2005 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-15

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Thursday
September 15, 2005
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily. com

lOTe MSiganjaily

I

8A

Michigan's success hinges
on battle in the trenches

quick look at a list of former Wolverines play-
ing in the NFL will show that Michigan has sent
more offensive linemen to the professional level
in recent years than athletes at any other position.
This fact isn't all that surprising, consider-
ing Michigan's traditional emphasis on the '
running game. Sure, Wolverine quarterbacks
have become hot commodities lately, but the
big blockers up front have been the team's
calling card for as long as anybody cares to
remember.
So the present situation worries me, and it
should bother you, too.
Why, you ask? Because this year's line isn't
shaping up like a typical Michigan group.
Criticize Chad Henne all you want for his G
poor showing against Notre Dame. Point the EDI
finger at conservative play-calling. But no Ilon.e
matter how good the Wolverines may be at the
skill positions or strategic planning, it all means nothing if
the O-line can't cohere.
It's often said that football games are won or lost in the
trenches, and that point is hard to argue when you take a
look at past Michigan squads.
The offensive line on the Wolverines' 1997 national
championship team featured three current NFL starters:
Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson and Jon Jansen. Even in the
past two years, as the Wolverines traveled to Pasadena for
back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, the five-man front
has been a major strength. In 2003, Chris Perry's 1,674-
yard season came while running through holes opened
by one of the most consistent and synchronized lines in
school history. Adam Stenavich, David Baas, Dave Pear-
son, Matt Lentz and Tony Pape each started every game
and never shuffled positions. Last year, Stenavich, Baas
and Lentz started every regular-season game, while Jake
Long missed just two starts. Left guard was the only posi-
tion that saw multiple changes during the year - Baas's
move to center necessitated Leo Henige's promotion
before Rueben Riley took over for the final seven contests.
Three factors are critically important to the success or
failure of an offensive line. A look at these criteria shows
why there may be cause for concern this season.
First, and most obviously, skill level plays a sig-
nificant role. While Michigan's 2005 roster features
some pretty substantial talent on the line, it lacks the
dominant, versatile presence of Baas, an All-American
a year ago who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.
And it certainly didn't help when Long, a redshirt
sophomore who may be the most naturally gifted line-
man to ever don the winged helmet, suffered a serious
leg injury at the end of fall camp. Long is expected to
miss much - if not all - of this season. So it's safe to

A
EL
Es

say that, without any significant additions this year, the
talent level is not what it was in 2004.
Second, a healthy unit is crucial to winning. And this
offensive line hasn't exactly been healthy so far. As a mat-
ter of fact, it's been downright cursed when
it comes to the injury bug. It all started when
Long went down in late August, the victim
of a freak accident in practice. Things got
worse before the Notre Dame game, when
Mike Kolodziej, filling in for Long, suffered
an undisclosed injury that prevented him from
dressing for the much-anticipated showdown.
Even Lentz, a mainstay on the line over the past
few years, went down with an apparent injury
during the second quarter against the Irish.
kBE Lentz returned, but his temporary absence gave
LSON Michigan players, coaches and fans yet another
ta be scare and threatened to submarine the already-
paper-thin depth at the position. The only good
news on the medical front is that Henige is finally healthy
after missing most of last season due to a knee injury. So it's
basically been a MASH unit at the line of scrimmage, a very
uncharacteristic circumstance for the Wolverines.
Finally, a line must build chemistry to stand out. This
requires a time-consuming process during which each
player becomes accustomed to the tendencies, strengths
and weaknesses of his teammates. Repetition is abso-
lutely essential, because it's clearly difficult to coordi-
nate five gigantic bodies in an effective pattern, down
after down. Once again, the Wolverines fail the test.
Even though Stenavich and Lentz have a ton of experi-
ence in game scenarios, it would be an understatement
to call the remaining three spots untested. As it stands,
Michigan's left guard, center and right tackle - Henige,
Adam Kraus and Riley, respectively - made a com-
bined nine starts in nine collective years in Ann Arbor
before this season. These guys aren't quite seasoned vet-
erans. Not by a long shot.
Sure, I know it's early. A lot could happen to reverse
these trends.
Long could return to make a major contribution this
season. Henige seems to be doing well in his comeback
attempt. Inexperienced players asked to fill vital roles
- like Kraus - might step up to the challenge.
But unlike in past seasons, these are all question marks.
For the first time in a while, those big guys with bulky
black knee braces striding to the ball in front of Henne
don't necessarily give Michigan an automatic advantage.
It might be fair to say that the season's on the line for
the Wolverines.
- Edelson can be reached at
gedelson@umich.edu

Junior cornerback Leon Hall (29) brings down Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn for one of his two sacks last Saturday.
B lue's'D) biht spot home loss

By Matt Venegoni
Daily Sports Editor
The Michigan football team has
given up 17 points in each of its first
two games, but the feeling about the
defense after last Saturday's game
against Notre Dame is much better
than it was one week before.
That's because, against the Hus-
kies, the Wolverines' defense gave
up a whopping 419 yards to go with
the 17 points. At the Monday press
conference after the season opener,
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was
not happy with what he saw on the
game tape.
"We're just not where we need to
be, and we need to play harder," Carr
said. "We need to play more physical,
and that is our intent."
This came after a win, so one would
assume that Carr would be even hard-
er on the defense after Michigan's
loss to Notre Dame last Saturday. But
this was not the case.
"Defensively, I thought we played
hard, I thought we played physical,
and I thought, as the game went on,
we got better and better," he said. "I
thought we really came out of that
game feeling like we can have a
good defense."

As a unit, the defense gave up
just 244 yards - a third of which
came on the Irish's first drive. On
Notre Dame's opening push, it used
a no huddle offense that fooled the
Michigan defense and affected sub-
stitutions.
"Looking back on New England
(where Notre Dame coach Charlie
Weis was an offensive coordinator),
in particular, every week they came
out with something new," junior
LaMarr Woodley said of the Irish's
game-opening drive. "You expect
(something new) a little bit, but at the
same time, you don't."
The Notre Dame staff and players
were not surprised with the results of
the first drive. They wanted to catch
the Wolverines by surprise and take
the fans out of the game early.
"It obviously was a key," Notre
Dame junior quarterback Brady
Quinn said. "I think that sent a mes-
sage to start the game like that."
Said Weis: "I wanted to take the
crowd out of the game. This was a
no-huddle offense, but this was not a
hurry-up offense. They're two differ-
ent things. This was so that I didn't
have to have guys not hear the play in
the huddle. It was just so that we could
take the noise out of the game."

But after the opening drive, the
Wolverines kept the Irish offense
in check, limiting them to just 10
points the rest of the game. More
importantly for Michigan, the
defense continually played aggres-
sively, even though it was in a hole
for most of the afternoon.
Defensive coordinator Jim Her-
rmann displayed a more attacking
unit, featuring blitzes from all over
the field. Herrmann was not afraid
to send his defensive backs into the
Irish backfield, and he got results.
Cornerback Leon Hall had two sacks
and strong safety Bradent Englemon
added one as well.
"I just hope that we will play like
that the rest of the season because
that's the way you want to play,"
Carr said.
Heading into the Eastern Michigan
game, the Wolverines are looking for
both the offense and defense to bring
their best games - something that
hasn't happened yet this season. But
the defense is confident that the team
will come together and play better
this weekend.
"Offense, defense - that's what
makes a team," Woodley said. "We
should be on the same page next
week."

BIG MEN ON CAMPUS
Nine former Wolverines are now NFL offensive linemen, while another two players from
Michigan were cut by professional teams just before the start of the regular season. Here's
'' ^ "tca crn~cuh a i 'tn * vt * I-l'

i

U~ IMOI.Vl CA-?V UVCM4IIICN WIO J~tdUCVIL LU LLIC I X I*l
PlyrPoPsition PoTea At ichian Heigt Weight
David Baas Guard SanFncico 49ers 20NX-2004 6-foot4 320 1bs .
Jeff Backus Tacke Dtaroit Lions 1996-2000 6.foot-$ 305 fbs,
Jonahan oodwin Guard NJew YrkJets 1982001 6,foot-3 318 1bs,
Steve Hutchinson. Guard , Seate ehawks 199-20 6-fot-5 313 lb~s.,
Jon ansen Tackle WahngtnRdskins 1994-1998 6-foot-6 306 tb ~
Tony Pape- Tackle Miami Dolphins 19W-~2003 "-oo- 3101h .
Dave Pearson Center At1ta*cox 1999-2003 6-foot-~3 2971'b5
Jon Runyan Tckl Philadelphia Eagles 19924995 6-foot-7 330]
Maurice Willims TckeJckovll agas1997-2000 6-foot-.5 3101bs2,
Note: Center David Brandt (San Diego Chargers) and guard Eric Wilson (Miai {Dotphimvs) werex ntly roe el

;.::. u

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