It all begins up front.
It’s an old football axiom that the success of the team – specifically the offense – is dependent upon the success of the offensive line.
This spring, there are several new beginnings on the Minnesota offensive line. The first is that a new coach is in charge in Bart Miller. Head coach Tracy Claeys tabbed Miller to lead his offensive line and hired him from Florida Atlantic on Dec. 30, 2015. Miller, who is from Omaha, Neb., has also served as offensive line coach at New Mexico State and Wisconsin.
Miller will have 16 offensive lineman to work with in the spring, but only five of those – Jonah Pirsig, Tyler Moore, Connor Mayes, Matt Leidner and Chad Fahning – have seen game action. Of those five only Pirsig, Moore and Mayes have started a game.
Pirsig is the most tenured of the group and he was the only offensive lineman to start all 13 games last season. The fifth-year senior is from Blue Earth, Minn., has played in 33 games and has started 20. Last year, he protected for a Minnesota offense to pass for 2,793 yards (most since 2008) and 15 touchdowns (most since 2010). In addition, he blocked for an offense in 2014 that rushed for 2,801 yards (most since 2005) and 32 touchdowns (most since 2005) and also helped pave the way for David Cobb to set a single-season rushing record with 1,626 yards.
Moore started the final eight games of the season at center as a true freshman and the offense excelled when he was asserted into the lineup. In his first start, the Gophers rushed for 326 yards (most in a Big Ten game since 2005) and in his next four starts, Minnesota tied a school record as it passed for at least 250 yards in each game.
Mayes has played in 21 career games. He saw action in all 13 games and started the first nine of the season last year at guard before he was spelled by rotating fifth-year seniors Joe Bjorklund and Jon Christenson.
Leidner played in three games last season and saw his most extensive action of the season at Purdue, while Fahning played in two games and helped provide critical protection against Illinois when Minnesota passed for a touchdown with five seconds left in the first half.
Two new additions to the Minnesota offensive line this spring are junior college transfers Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright.
Calhoun spent two seasons at Southwest Mississippi Community College and earned NJCAA Second Team All-America honors as a sophomore when he helped pave the way for the Bears to pass for 1,572 yards and 12 touchdowns and rush for 1,312 yards and 11 scores in nine games. He allowed only two sacks while playing tackle all season and was also named to the NJCAA's All-Region team, selected MACJC First Team All-South and named the South's Most Valuable Lineman.
Wright spent three seasons at Butler Community College, which included a redshirt his first year. He helped lead the Grizzlies to a 9-2 record and a No. 5 ranking as a sophomore and was named First Team All-Jayhawk Conference as he blocked for an offense that rushed for 2,087 yards and 36 touchdowns and passed for 2,160 yards and 16 scores.
Also looking to gain more experience this spring are soon-to-be redshirt sophomores Matt Oldenkamp, Luke Rasmussen and Jared Weyler. Minnesota was also able to redshirt five offensive linemen last season in Nick Connelly, Bronson Dovich, Noah Kuehn, Quinn Oseland and Ted Stieber.
Mose Hall, who redshirted last season as a defensive lineman, has been moved to the offensive line and is participating in drills with that group this spring.
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