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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Offensive Line

The talent is there for the Gophers to boast one of their best offensive lines in years

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Minnesota vs Georgia Tech Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

I say, “SPRING,” you say, “POSITION PREVIEWS!”

I say, “SPRING,” you say, “POSITION PREVIEWS!”

That’s right. The hiatus is over. Football is back! Well, the spring version of football, at least. And in the weeks leading up to the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ spring game at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, at TCF Bank Stadium, we’ll be breaking down each position group.

Key Departure(s): Donnell Greene and Jared Weyler
Key Returner(s): Conner Olson, Blaise Andries, Daniel Faalele, Curtis Dunlap, Sam Schlueter, Jason Dickson, John Michael Schmitz, Kyle Sassack, Austin Beier, and Nathan Boe
Early Enrollee(s): J.J. Guedet

I know a lot of Gopher fans are excited about the present and future of the wide receiver position — and rightfully so — but I would advise you to reserve at least some of that excitement for the Minnesota offensive line. Because this could be an elite unit now and in the years to come.

Redshirt junior Conner Olson is the elder statesman of the starting five, and he’ll take over at center after starting all 13 games last season at left guard. He’ll be replaced at left guard by redshirt sophomore Blaise Andries. Flanking Olson at the opposite guard position will likely be redshirt freshman Curtis Dunlap. Dunlap redshirted last season, but we saw a glimpse of his future in the Quick Lane Bowl when he made the first start of his career.

Mammoth offensive lineman Daniel Faalele claimed the starting right tackle spot last year after taking over for Sam Schlueter at midseason. The decision to burn his redshirt paid off for an offensive line that seemed to click after the true freshman was inserted into the starting lineup. There will be a competition at left tackle between Schlueter and redshirt junior Jason Dickson. To come out on top, Schlueter will need to dramatically improve his pass blocking and Dickson will need to shake off any rust after taking an academic redshirt last season.

The potential problem in the near term is depth (or rather lack thereof). The gap between first- and second-string is not insignificant. Head coach P.J. Fleck and co. are working to address this, but without back-to-back recruiting classes of blue-chip offensive linemen, building depth takes time.

Offensive tackle Kyle Sassack will sit out spring practice while he recovers from offseason surgery, but keep an eye on the development of his fellow underclassmen, including redshirt sophomore John Michael Schmitz, redshirt freshmen Austin Beier and Nathan Boe, and early enrollee J.J. Guedet. The latter has already made an impression in his first practices with the team, taking second-string snaps at right tackle behind Faalele. He looks the part with a college-ready frame, but it will be trial by fire for the true freshman until he can add more strength.

Next: Defensive Line