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Minnesota Football Preview: Gopher Offensive Line, Upgrade or Downgrade in 2019?

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Can Minnesota solve the riddle of a tackle not named Daniel Faalele?

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

Finally we get to an offensive position group that has to replace a starter or two. So far these upgrade/downgrade previews have been pretty easy because everybody returns and in the preseason it is pretty reasonable to expect that these will all be at least a slight upgrade.

Offensive line was a unit that improved throughout the year last season and by the end of the year had a couple of true freshmen starting.

2018

Starter: Donnell Greene (LT), Connor Olson (LG), Jared Wyler (C), Blaise Andries (RG), Daniel Faalale (RT)
Depth: Curtis Dunlap Jr (RG), Sam Schlueter (T)

Really 6 of those 7 names above started in 2018, the starters listed were the starters for the end of the season. Schlueter began the year at RT and in the last couple games Dunlap played quite a bit, including one start.

Early in the year this unit struggled a bit. I recall the Maryland game in particular where Zack Annexstad was battered and bruised and abused. But about mid-way through the season there were a few adjustments made and the offensive line really came together to be a strength of this offense. Putting Faalele into the starting lineup really made a huge difference as he locked down that position and showed that he is going to be an outstanding Big Ten offensive lineman.

2019

Starter: Sam Schleuter (LT), Blaise Andries (LG), Connor Olson (C), Curtis Dunlap Jr (RG), Daniel Faalele (RT)
Depth: Jason Dickson (T), John Michael Schmitz (C), Nathan Boe (G), Nate Umlor (T)

There is some flexibility with this group and really those 5 starters plus the first two names listed as depth are the primary 7 guys you’ll see on the field this year.

The biggest question here is really left tackle. The other 4 spots along the line are all guys who I very much trust and think will be quite good. Faalele at RT and Dunlap at RG are two guys who have a very bright future and I really have high expectations for, now. Those two are big and athletic and really ideally suited to lock down that right side of the line. Olson is likely to be the starting center or he’ll start at LG with Schmitz at center, either way he is arguably our best lineman on the roster. Andries is a redshirt sophomore who seems to be the starter at LG after starting 12 games at RG last season. There is some possibility that he actually becomes the starter at LT, but LG seems most likely.

Then we get to the left tackle. Jason Dickson was a JUCO transfer who ended up redshirting last season and was the presumed replacement for Greene. But he has yet to take that spot and lock it down, leaving room for Schleuter or possibly Andries to earn that starting spot. Schleuter started 5 games at RT and 2 at LT last season with mixed results, often getting beaten on speed rushers in passing situations. Between these two, the overall success of the OL depends on one of them locking down this spot.

Beyond the 7 names mentioned there is a lot of youth and unknowns. Nate Umlor is a redshirt SO who has transitioned to tackle, Alex Ruschmeyer & Kyle Sassack are redshirt sophomores who have yet to play any meaningful time. Austin Beier and Nathan Boe are redshirt freshmen who stand a chance to contribute, but likely only in there is an injury or two. And JJ Guedet is a true freshman tackle who is very likely to redshirt.

The good news is that 4 spots are essentially secured and are guys who can really be relied upon. And there is some position flexibility here with depth.

Upgrade / Downgrade

Is this unit an upgrade? Left tackle is important to figure out. Having that spot more secured would certainly alleviate any concerns along the line and this one spot is really the only remaining position battle on offense.

Again...is it an upgrade? Overall I think it is but maybe not by much. It will really depend on how quickly a solidified group of 5 is set and they can begin to learn to play as one. I have the utmost confidence in Brian Callahan, the OL coach, and this unit is going to be very good.

Poll

Is the Offensive Line an upgrade or a downgrade over 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Upgrade - watch those young guys start to dominate
    (372 votes)
  • 30%
    Neutral - it was fine last year, will be again
    (175 votes)
  • 5%
    Downgrade - until we find an answer at LT...
    (33 votes)
580 votes total Vote Now