Offseason Position Preview: Offensive Line

Go Gophers!
Limegrover has high hopes for sophomore Josh Campion.

Go Gophers!
Limegrover has high hopes for sophomore Josh Campion.
Go Gophers!

June 18, 2013

OVERVIEW
Not a single senior played on the Golden Gopher offensive line in 2012. Everyone is back with another year of experience. The lack of departing seniors also means there is a lack of automatic openings on the depth chart.

“I don’t think there’s a single guy in that group that feels like he has a position locked up right now,” offensive coordinator and line coach Matt Limegrover said. “That keeps them getting up in the morning and working hard and knowing that if they don’t, there’s somebody right on their heels.”

Injuries were a major reason why so many linemen had a chance to gain playing time, or to try a different position. While staying healthy would be ideal, Limegrover said that these extra opportunities created by injuries have not only pushed the starters, but also given less experienced players the belief that they can earn a spot.

“I think the competition aspect of not having guys slotted in, not having that caste system, has just been huge in raising the overall play of that entire group,” he said.

FOCUS ON: CENTER
Several different centers snapped the ball to three different quarterbacks in 2012. While the Gophers hope for fewer injuries and more stability at the position this fall, they will be prepared if they do need to shuffle the lineup.

“We’ll have five or six guys that will be able to snap that football,” Limegrover said.

He said sophomore Jon Christenson, junior transfer Brian Bobek and sophomore Ernie Heifort (in no particular order) will likely be the top three centers, but juniors Tommy Olson and Zac Epping, among others, will practice snaps over the summer. Bobek is currently limited with a viral infection. Senior Zach Mottla started three games at center last season, but is still recovering from a broken leg suffered during the season.


 

 

With the number of Gophers working on snaps, and the importance of that center-to-quarterback exchange, the process of setting the depth chart at center will be an interesting one to watch.

“The one thing you learn is it’s easy to take a guy playing right guard and move him to left guard, or right tackle and play him at right guard,” Limegrover said. “You can mix and match that, but you’ve got to be a little bit different, a little bit special to play center.”

KEY RETURNERS
With the line being young overall, underclassmen may often be called upon to lead the group on the field. Limegrover currently considers sophomore Josh Campion as one of the line’s anchors. He was one of the few constants in the lineup last season, starting every game at right tackle.

“I feel like he’s got the talent to be an All-Big Ten tackle,” Limegrover said. “He got the experience last year. He’s really come on. He’s healthy. He’s feeling good. We’re very excited about him.”

Limegrover also sees Epping as a mainstay of the line. Epping is coming back healthy after surgery to clean out his elbow, which will help with his range of motion. He showed versatility and dependability as a sophomore, starting all 13 games at three different positions.

Like many of his counterparts, Ed Olson is also trying to get back to 100 percent. As a redshirt senior, he is one of the veterans of the group along with Mottla. Limegrover said Olson will have to battle for the right to start as he comes back from surgery, but will fit into a leadership role when he gets there.

“He’s kind of got that respect factor, and I think he’ll be able to settle in,” Limegrover said. “He’s got some work to do to get back to that point, and I think he’s the first one to know that.”

Juniors Marek Lenkiewicz, who started at left tackle while Olson was out, and Caleb Bak, who started the final 11 games of 2012, also return for the Gophers.

NEW FACES TO WATCH
A handful of redshirt freshmen will have a chance to see their first action this fall. Ben Lauer has impressed the coaching staff with his fast adaptation to the college game. Isaac Hayes has become more comfortable in Minnesota’s system, especially during this past spring. Jonah Pirsig, who suffered a knee injury during spring practice, has been working out as much as the doctors allow and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

Incoming true freshman Alex Mayes has versatility that “will help him maybe be able to crack the lineup sooner than a guy who just plays one position,” Limegrover said. Also in the class of 2013 are Chad Fahning and Matt Leidner, who both had chances to accept scholarships elsewhere but chose to walk on at Minnesota.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
“Even though we might by some standards still be a little young, I feel like as a group we’re right where we probably need to be and we’re only getting better with those younger guys,” Limegrover said.