2023 NFL Draft

Interview: Minnesota Center John Michael Schmitz Takes Pride Being The Man In The Middle

John Michael Schmitz wants to be the man in the arena. In doing so, he’s literally the man in the middle. A four-year starter at center for Minnesota, he wants to be the guy in charge, the leader, the voice, the player teammates can count on. That’s what he expressed in his Saturday Combine interview.

“You’re truly the middle guy in the group,” he told the group, including our Jonathan Heitritter and Joe Clark. “You got your left side, you got your right side, and you’re the guy that sees the whole picture. You’re the guy that lets the o-line know that you’re in command, that you’re the leader, that you’re in charge of all the communication that goes up front.”

It’s a job he did well since getting the starting nod in 2019, his redshirt sophomore season. He has all the traits teams look for in a lineman. Smart, athletic, physical, and durable, never missing time with the Golden Gophers. That combination easily got the NFL’s attention and he was invited to this year’s Senior Bowl, putting on a show throughout the week. One highlight was burying Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu on a screen late in one practice, showing his ability to move in space alongside his power and nasty.

Being the man in the middle means being the voice the rest of the line listens to. Michael Schmitz has no problem speaking up.

“Pretty vocal. I’m making sure everyone’s on the same page, communicating, making all the calls. Obviously if there’s some late adjustments down the field, I’m at the end of the play, I’m screaming.”

The only knock on him is his age, a six-year collegiate player who turns 24 later this month. He could’ve declared last season but felt there was unfinished business at Minnesota.

“For my team we had a lot left to accomplish. When I first got there, we set out goals and coming short of those goals, and I wanted one more chance at it.”

The Golden Gophers went 9-4 for the second straight year but highlighted the season with a blowout win over Michigan State, knocking off Wisconsin late in the season, and a bowl win over Syracuse.

Though only a center in college, he has the size and length at 6’3, 306 pounds with nearly 33 inch arms, he profiles as someone who can play guard, too. That could be key in Pittsburgh, who may want to keep Mason Cole in the middle of their offensive line next year, instead looking for an upgrade at left guard over Kevin Dotson, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He said he’s comfortable playing anywhere along the interior.

Michael Schmitz said he’s yet to meet with the Steelers, rattling off Seattle, Washington, Arizona, Miami, and the New York Jets as some of the teams he’s talked to. He’ll have his Pro Day in less than two weeks, March 15th, and we’ll keep an eye on if the Steelers are there.

While it’s a strong interior offensive line class, he could be the first center off the board with a combination of tangible and intangible skills.

“My toughness and the way I finish. It’s like no one else. The way I play is I don’t take a play off. I’m gonna finish each and every play, and I just think my leadership at the end of the day how I’m able to lead a group of guys and get them playing the way they do at a high level.”

Check out our full pre-draft profile on him below.

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