The Minnesota Golden Gophers will take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in a spring game showdown at noon on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, weather permitting. Leading up to the game, we’ll be taking a look at the outlook for each position group.
Key Departure(s): Vincent Calhoun, Garrison Wright, and Nick Connelly
Key Returner(s): Jared Weyler, Donnell Greene, Conner Olson, Sam Schlueter, Quinn Oseland, Blaise Andries, Bronson Dovich, John Michael Schmitz, Ben Davis, Kyle Sassack, and Nate Bursch
Early Enrollee(s): Curtis Dunlap and Daniel Faalele
Believe it or not, this is the position group I feel most confident about on offense.
Vincent Calhoun and Garrison Wright graduated and Nick Connelly retired from football, with those three contributing a combined 23 starts last season. But even with their departures, the starting five for the fall appears set, in my opinion.
Redshirt senior Donnell Greene will hold down the left tackle spot, where he started 11 games last season. Redshirt sophomore Conner Olson started all 12 games last season between left guard, center, and right guard, but I expect him at left guard. Redshirt senior Jared Weyler is at center, but I expect him to be challenged for that position by redshirt freshman John Michael Schmitz. Redshirt freshman Blaise Andries has been practicing at first-team right guard, ahead of redshirt junior Bronson Dovich. And redshirt sophomore Sam Schlueter is holding down the starting right tackle spot after drawing five starts there last season.
JUCO offensive tackle Jason Dickson, who arrives in the fall, will push Schlueter for that right tackle spot. The rest of the challengers are young and inexperienced, but there is no shortage of talent. You won’t see early enrollee Curtis Dunlap on Saturday, as he suffered an undisclosed lower body injury that has sidelined him for the rest of spring practice, but he was pushing Dovich at the right guard position when Andries missed time earlier in the spring.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Sassack has seen second-team reps behind Greene at left tackle. I fully expect early enrollee Daniel Faalele to redshirt this fall while he continues to learn the nuances of the tackle position. As long as Greene, Schlueter, and Dickson are healthy, there is no reason to push him into game action, either.
The Gophers are most certainly in a better spot than they were last spring, when head coach P.J. Fleck didn’t even have a second-string offensive line which with to work. I know more than a few fans were critical of the offensive line last season, but they were saddled with considerable disadvantages in the form of inept quarterback play, a woeful wide receiver corps, and playcalling that never seemed to attack the edge when defenses would stack the box. Those three problems could very likely rear their ugly heads again this season, but I’m hopeful the offensive line can and will be better served.
Next: Defensive Line