It’s no secret that if Michigan football has one glaring weakness this season it’s pass protection.
The Wolverines’ left tackle, Jon Runyan, Jr. has left a lot to be desired over the first two games of the season, causing many Michigan fans to be hyper-interested in true freshman backup Jalen Mayfield.
Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warriner talked about Mayfield’s development at media availability on Wednesay:
“Over the summer they’ve (Mayfield and redshirt freshman backup right tackle James Hudson) come a long way,” Warriner said. “With freshmen you never know. He’s really come on and works every day with the twos and gets some work with the ones every day. His progress is great. I feel like we’re starting to develop some depth there that could roll into more and more playing time as they deserve it.”
As a true freshman that didn’t enroll early, there’s obviously a low ceiling on just how good Mayfield can get this season, but Warriner sounded optimistic about Mayfield’s trajectory.
“I’d say he’s ahead of schedule,” Warriner said. “Physically, mentally, both. He’s ahead of what would be a regular trajectory for a freshman that starts in June.”
Michigan fans clamoring for Mayfield to get the bulk of the snaps can pump the brakes, though. Warriner thinks the starters are in the midst of their best week of practice and feels Runyan’s play is improving.
“We were much better week two (against Western Michigan) than week one (Notre Dame) but still a work in progress,” Warriner said. “These were Jon Runyan’s first two starts as an offensive tackle. He’s played solid and continues to grow there. They’re (Runyan and Bushell-Beatty) very coachable guys.”
According to Warriner, Mayfield is practicing with the first-stringers 25 percent of the time, and Hudson a little more than that, mitigating any concerns about the o-line’s chemistry if Mayfield or Hudson were inserted into the starting lineup.
And if the Wolverines are going to make a change on the offensive line, Warriner went into some depth to explain what that process might look like from a coaching standpoint and left the door open for changes.
“Your job is yours for the start of the game,” Warriner said. “If you aren’t playing well in the game, and somebody else is close, we’ll make a move. After the game, if we realize you’ve underperformed and somebody else is passing you up, or even with you, then we’ll move on. It’s not like that’s the starting five for the season. It’s based on performance in games, performance in practice and who’s the most consistent. I think, the thing is that the guys who are next at a lot of positions are young. You put a young guy in before he’s ready, and you can ruin him. if you bring them in at a pace they can handle, then you’ve got something for a long time.”
No doubt, the best case scenario is for Runyan to significantly improve, especially against quality competition, and hold Mayfield off. If Michigan can keep Mayfield’s redshirt on, it could have a dramatic effect on the line several years from now (Imagine if Mason Cole was the left tackle this year, something that wasn’t possible because Cole had to start his freshman season.).
Mayfield is still just a break-in-case-of-emergency option, but it sounds like Wolverine coaches like what they see so far.