How Michigan’s offensive line has propelled the D-line’s progress

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In recent memory, it used to be a case where the defensive line cut the offensive line’s teeth in practice, as that was the premier unit for Michigan football. Now, the offensive line has the look of being one of the nation’s most elite groups, so the defensive line is the unit that’s cutting its teeth now.

And you’re seeing the progress in games.

For a young player like Kris Jenkins Jr. who is getting his first taste of playing time, when he’s entered the Western Michigan and Washington games, playing against the opposing O-lines has been a walk in the park compared to what he goes up against daily in practice, he says.

“It’s honestly great, our offensive line,” Jenkins said. “A lot of great guys with a lot of experience, go to practice and you win some and you lose some. But you know you’re gonna get good work, you know you’re gonna get better. Seeing that play out on Saturdays, you’re like, ‘Wow! This feels so much different!’ You’re playing at a higher level and you’ve just gotta thank the O-line because they’re gonna get you better every day.”

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Now that Jenkins is seeing the field with regularity as a redshirt freshman, he’s thriving. He received the fifth-best grade on the team in PFF’s defense rankings for the Washington game, a week after posting the fourth-best grade. Both weeks, he’s graded out as the team’s best lineman, which is a huge leap from how Jenkins felt at this time last year.

Learning the college game and getting his feet wet, Jenkins expressed a level of anxiety when he first arrived, so the biggest thing for him was to acclimate to the college game.

“Last year — coming in my freshman year — I wasn’t used to how things roll,” Jenkins said. “And I feel like now — because I was very nervous, I didn’t really know what I was doing at first. Now the coaches have helped me, the nutritionists, strength staff — I’m going out there, I’m playing at a higher level, I’m playing at a stronger level, a faster level, and I’m playing to have fun with my boys. I’m just playing ball.”

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On Monday, while he didn’t say much about Jenkins’ performance, Jim Harbaugh said he’s liked what he’s seen from the second-year player in his first two games.

“Kris Jenkins has been getting a lot of snaps and yeah, he’s improving and playing good,” Harbaugh said. “Playing really good. Good off returns as well. Yeah, he’s taking steps.”

In 2021, Jenkins played three total snaps, all coming late in the game against Wisconsin.

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