Much has been made about the uncertainty of Michigan’s quarterback situation, but that isn’t the only area potentially in question for the Wolverines in 2016. While expectations are that the offensive line will improve from an encouraging 2015 performance, Jim Harbaugh and his team cannot afford to have any sort of dip up front in protecting a new signal-caller, and that is the backdrop of an interesting revelation from a local news outlet this week.
Mike Mulholland of MLive.com, as part of a post ranking the most important players on Michigan’s current roster, elected to forego names like Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and either Wilton Speight or John O’Korn for the number one spot. His choice? Mason Cole.
Michigan cannot replace Mason Cole. Not only is he the best offensive lineman on the roster, but his versatility could be something that would help Michigan get through an injury somewhere else. He can play every spot on the offensive line. So if a tackle goes down, he can kick out and fill in there while someone else takes over at center. And so on and so forth.
Cole, who is moving from tackle to center as part of Michigan’s initial alignment this season, is certainly the most proven and talented option on the offensive line, but he is adjusting to a new position as well. It will undoubtedly strike some people as odd to see Cole ranked ahead of Peppers (2), Lewis (3) and the quarterbacks (4) on this list, but in principle, it does make sense.
Could Michigan overcome an injury to Cole? Probably, but it would certainly present a situation in which the offensive line was precipitously worse. The same could be said for players like Peppers and Lewis, but the reserve talent is stronger at those positions (save, potentially, for “linebacker” since that is Peppers’ new position) and the loss of Cole’s overall versatility would be huge.
Fans and pundits will rightly focus on the team’s stars and, especially, on the quarterback situation in the early moments of the 2016 season, but if Mason Cole isn’t on the field, it could be trouble for Michigan’s offensive line and, by extension, the entire unit as a whole.