ANN ARBOR, Mich. — What a difference a few years make. 2017 now seems like a distant past, when the Wolverines had some promise on the offensive line, but it became quickly evident that it wasn’t all coming together. It took into Big Ten play into the 2018 season before the promise that Jim Harbaugh would reassert the offensive line as a stalwart portion of the team would finally come to fruition.
And then to now? Well, it’s found an extra gear.
For two years in a row, Michigan football has brought home the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s best offensive line. It’s the first time in the history of the award that one school has earned it twice in consecutive years. The maize and blue certainly hope to make it three years in a row, which may seem unlikely, but given that there are six returning players with starting experience in Ann Arbor, along with multiple transfers coming who also have starting experience, all set to duke it out this spring — well, to whittle things down to just five starting linemen is going to be something of a challenge, head coach Jim Harbaugh says.
“That’s a good problem to have, right? How hard is it going to be to get the five starters? It will probably be pretty hard. Like it was last year. We had seven, eight guys, that were starters,” Harbaugh said. “If you look at it now: Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, Greg Crippen, Gio, Trente, Zak Zinter, Jeff Persi. I consider them all starters and LaDarius Henderson, Drake Nugent, Myles Hinton — all capable. Andrew Gentry is going to be really good. Reece Atteberry’s really good, Dom Giudice has come over, he’s really good — from the defensive side. And three really good freshmen coming in.
“But, just keep attacking and everybody paying the price. As long as we’re doing that as long as everybody’s paying the price. Everybody is doing that then they and each person can grow to their potential. The only thing to avoid is that there’s so many good players that others think that they can maybe give half the effort they should and still reap the benefits of success, but it just never works that way. Everybody’s got to pay the price to win. If that doesn’t happen, then everyone pays the price of losing. Nothing comes cheap. (No) cheap victories for the team or anyone on it.”
Harbaugh couldn’t speak solely about the offensive line without mentioning how good he feels about the defensive front on the other side of the ball.
The defensive line doesn’t have quite the same type of depth as its offensive counterpart, and it also lost Mazi Smith — the tip of the spear — to the NFL this offseason. However, Harbaugh is still enthusiastic about the depth in the middle of the front, noting the three players who are primed for breakout seasons in 2023.
“Very excited about the offensive line. I’ve said the same about the defensive as well,” Harbaugh said. “Kenneth Grant, Mason Graham, Kris Jenkins — potentially our best player on the defense. He’s going to be really good. Rayshaun Benny is really, really coming on. And then we got Josaiah Stewart added, TJ Guy — somebody that has the potential to do good, so does Cam Goode. Alessandro Lorenzetti moved from offensive line to defensive line. Ike Iwunnah and now a whole bevy of incoming freshmen. Big guys that have played the nose tackle and end position that we’re really excited about.
“So just have — we talked about the lines, the front, offensive, defensive lines, where that goes? If guys really work hard, if they do everything they can to maximize their potential, we’ll be in good shape.”
Unlike some relatively recent years, Michigan football appears to be in very good standing, not just along the lines, but across nearly every position group. The Wolverines have the fifth-most returning production in college football, including at the most important position: quarterback. As long as the team stays relatively healthy, the sky is the limit for the maize and blue in 2023.