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Minnesota Football 2017 Preview: Offensive Line Upgrade / Downgrade

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Can the Gopher OL

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A new staff, a highly decorated offensive line coach and returning a number of contributors from 2016 all sound great. But it took until August before the new staff could get a good look at what the Gophers have along the offensive line. Spring practice often saw a total of 3 or 4 scholarship linemen available to practice, but now with virtually everyone healthy will the offensive line be an upgrade this year?

2016

Starter: Donnell Greene, Garrison Wright, Tyler Moore, Vincent Calhoun, Jonah Pirsig
Depth: Nick Connelly, Jared Weyler, Connor Mayes, Bronson Dovich

The offensive line struggled in 2016. They eye test showed it and the numbers back it up. Football Outsiders gives us an Adjusted Line Yards metric that attempts to rank a team’s offensive rushing performance agnostic of who the running back is. The Gopher offensive line was 104th in Adjust Line Yards. Power Success Rate measures how successful an offense is in short-yardage situations. We ranked 105th.

We all know that the Gopher rushing attack was pretty good, but it looks like it was very good in spite of an offensive line that failed to open holes for our backs.

What about in pass protection? Adjusted Sack Rate is a measure that takes into account how often a team passes the ball (more attempts means more sacks, so raw sacks allowed isn’t a fair measure) and also takes into account quality of opponent and situations (down/distance). The Gopher offensive line ranked 31st nationally, which isn’t a bad spot to be. But as Ustreet pointed out to me, due to the lack of fear of our passing game, most teams could stand to rush 4 or 5 and take their chances that they could still get pressure.

It was not a great year for the Gopher offensive line and they graduated the guy who was arguably the most consistent and talented in Jonah Pirsig. So what can we expect in 2017?

2017

Starter: Donnell Greene (LT), Connor Olson (LG), Jared Weyler (C), Vincent Calhoun (RG), Garrison Wright (RT)
Depth: Nick Connelly, Bronson Dovich, Quinn Oseland, Blaise Andries, Sam Schlueter, Ben Davis
Freshmen: John Michael-Schmitz, Eric Rousemiller, Nathan Bursch, Kyle Sassack

It really starts with the addition of a Ed Warinner as the offensive line coach. Warinner comes to Minnesota from Ohio State where he was the co-offensive coordinator from 2012-15 and then took the reigns himself in 2016. In those first four years he was the offensive line coach and was twice named the FootballScoop Offensive Line Coach of the Year.

But even with a top-notch OL coach on the sidelines, he needs guys who can execute. So the good news is that four linemen return who started 7 games or more last year. Three JUCO transfers (Greene, Calhoun and Wright) from a year ago all played in their first year as Gophers and all three return, hopefully stronger and more acclimated to Big Ten football. Those three are going to account for the tackle positions and right guard.

For the other two starting spots it looks like redshirt freshman, Connor Olson will get the nod at left guard with Jared Weyler starting at center.

I feel quite comfortable with that starting 5, the real issue becomes what happens when we need to dip into the second team. It is the second group that has little to no experience. Nick Connelly, Bronson Dovich and Quinn Oseland have all seen limited action on the field, mostly on special teams. Blaise Andries is a true freshman who likely shouldn’t see the field until he’s had a year to redshirt. And Sam Schlueter has redshirted, is a big kid at 6-6, 298...but it is hard to rely upon a redshirt freshman if you don’t need to.

Overall it is a young group with just 2 guys in the top 10 who are seniors.

Upgrade/Downgrade

This is a tricky one. Looking at the starters, I’d say that this is going to be an upgrade. On paper it may really look neutral, but I believe the OL will be an upgrade this year. Not by much, but it will be. The problem really becomes depth, because it razor thin. If everyone along the line remains relatively healthy, I think they can cover for the redshirt freshman at guard and as a whole this unit will hold up fine. Imagine Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks if they are able to make guys miss a 3 yards past the line of scrimmage instead of having to do it a few years behind.

I’m expecting a little more push, a little better protection. It will be a slight upgrade. with higher expectations a year from now.

Poll

Offensive Line, Upgrade or Downgrade?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Upgrade - has to be
    (221 votes)
  • 8%
    Downgrade - it can be worse
    (37 votes)
  • 40%
    Neutral - who really knows
    (174 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now