David Molk dominated the trenches as Michigan's center. He not only led the offensive line to a 11-2 finish and a Sugar Bowl victory, but he also won Michigan's its second Rimington Award. The Rimington Award is given to the nation's best center and Molk certainly fit the bill. He was a four year starter at Michigan, won All-American status in his senior season, and was a team captain last year.
However, Molk will not be on the line next year and Michigan will have to find a new center to replace him. With Molk's consistency, I think a lot of fans have forgotten the drama that can engulf the center position if there is no solid starter. Take a look at the 2007 season. That Michigan team should have been one of the best in the nation. However, because of a combination of changing quarterbacks and centers, there were frequent disruptions that seemed to plague the offense. At one point, due to injury, Ryan Mallett had to replace Chad Henne and fumbled two times in a row because of botched snaps between him and Justin Boren.
I don't think 2012 is lined up to look like 2007, in regards to center issues, but many often forget the importance of snapping the ball and a center's role in the offense. Most point to the left tackle as the most important lineman, for good reason, since he's responsible for stopping most of the sack attempts, protecting the quarterback's blind side, and usually has to guard the best defensive lineman on a consistent basis. However, outside of that, the center may be the most important person on the line.
Not only do they touch the ball on every play, but they also make many blocking calls and audibles on the line. An active and good center can adjust for many types of blitzes and may prevent all kinds of backfield pressure. However, a bad center can drastically increase the backfield pressure, if they don't make the right calls and audibles. Molk was incredibly talented at doing this and it showed in his performance. In fact, many cite Molk's injuries in 2009 as one of the key components in that team's epic collapse that cost them a bowl berth.
So, how does this apply to the 2012 team? As stated earlier, someone is going to have the challenge of replacing Molk next season. As of now, that person is Ricky Barnum. There isn't much reason to doubt that Barnum will be starting in the fall (excluding injury). He started the Spring Game and seemed to do pretty well, even considering the weakness of Michigan's defensive line in that game.
Barnum has some significant advantages heading into the 2012 season and some strong reasons to believe that he will have at least decent success at the position. Just compare him to that 2007 team that I referenced above. The big thing that plagued the line in 2007 was that there were frequent switches between sophomore Justin Boren and senior Adam Kraus for center and left guard. This surely doesn't help the line play consistently and definitely doesn't help the quarterbacks get used to the center's snaps.
Michigan should only have senior lineman Ricky Barnum at the center position and will have a senior quarterback taking snaps. This may be the first real year of the duo, but having two seniors alone should give one at least some confidence heading forward. Denard Robinson obviously has some experience at his position, playing significant time the last three seasons, but Barnum also has a lot of experience at the center position. Barnum played center in high school at one point and actually began his career at Michigan as a center giving snaps to, you guessed it, Denard Robinson.
I won't sit here and claim Barnum is going to be as good as or even close to Molk next year, but I will say that he shouldn't be near the inconsistency of centers on teams such as Michigan's 2007 squad. Barnum does have experience and will be coupled with a quarterback that has immense experience. There were hiccups in the Spring Game, as should be expected, but it's not as if he was extremely weak at the position. It was just a few botched snaps, which should be expected in a center's first game at the position. The important thing is he has all summer and fall camp to improve. Michigan may not have seemed in the best of shape when Molk left Michigan at center, but I think fans can feel a bit relieved in the current situation.