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Season Preview: O-Line

Ed Note: Because TDG went live a tad later then we anticipated, we're going to rapidly put out various previews for the Gophers upcoming football season. We previously laid out the best/worst case for 2008 and took an inital look at new defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Today, we preview the offensive line.

Yeah, so, GN and I drew straws. I lost, hence my authorship of the following post on the most glamarous of positions in football, the offensive line.

Seriously though, as far as offensive lines are concerned the Gophers are sort of interesting. Glen Mason had a knack for developing a mashing core that paved the way for his usual stable of backs. The mindset has changed offensively for the Gophers, and Tim Brewster has most often publicly talked about improving the talent level at wide receiver and on the defense. The running game, at least in the traditional sense, seems to be going by the wayside.

For what the 2007 O-line was asked to do, Brewster's first line didn't disappoint. Primarily asked to pass-block, the five big men allowed just 13 sacks, the lowest number in the Big Ten. But departing are two 2007 captains--Tony Brinkhaus and Steve Shindell.

As Blake Dahmen of the Minnesota Daily notes, "Of the 19 linemen on the roster, nine have no Big Ten game experience."

Add to that  knee injuries to redshirt frosh Chris Bunders and and sophomore D.J. Burris and you can tell why Brewster told the Star Tribune "We're shuffling guys around."

So, if the season started today, according to the same STrib report, your protectors of Adam Weber would be as follows: Sophomore Dom Alford at the important left tackle spot. Redshirt frosh Ryan Orton at left guard. Junior Jeff Tow-Arnett at center. Junior Nedward Tavale at right guard. And either freshman Ryan Wynn or junior Jason Meinke at right tackle.

Of that group, Tavale made seven starts last season, Alford started the last five games of the season, Tow-Arnett played sparingly as a freshman and started three games last season and Meinke, an Eastview grad, played in just four games in two years. Not exactly a group of experienced offensive lineman. The lack of experience isn't lost on Brewster.

"We've got some really young talented kids, and I think we've got some tremendous battles going on," Brewster said. "Trey Davis and Jeff Tow-Arnett at center. And then, I'll tell you what, we've really got a good one in Ryan Orton and D.J. Burris at left guard. Ryan Orton has had just a spectacular camp. He's a big, physical guy that understands the game. He comes from a great program [Eden Prairie]. He was extremely well-coached in high school. So he's really put himself in a position for the battle.

"Ryan Wynn, we think, is going to be one of our better offensive linemen as he progresses. We're playing him at right tackle some now. Ned Tavale is having a good camp along with Chris Bunders; they're in good competition. And Dom Alford at left tackle has really been a solid player for us. So, we don't have a whole lot of experience up front, but we've got some talented guys that I think are really going to grow together in a very strong way."

That inexperience showed during the Gophers' intrasquad scrimmage yesterday. Both local periodicals noted that quarterbacks were sacked an astonishing nine times. If the Minnesota defense, even if it's improved, is providing that kind of pressure on Gophers quarterbacks, I fret to think about the havoc a mature defense might cause.

Because of this inexperience, it's certainly within reason to suggest the offensive line, an annual strength under Mason and in Brewster's first year, is a big question mark coming into the season. How they gel as a group will be a big part of whether the Gophers are able to continue putting up big numbers on offense.