Offseason Position Preview: Offensive Line
June 18, 2013
“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
“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.”
“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.”
NEW FACES TO WATCH
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.