With spring football practice at Minnesota under way after kicking off on Monday, March 29, we are breaking down each position group throughout the month of April.
2021 Offensive Line Roster
Returning Starter(s): Conner Olson, Sam Schlueter, Blaise Andries, John Michael Schmitz, and Axel Ruschmeyer
Other Returners: Curtis Dunlap Jr., Daniel Faalele, Austin Beier, Nathan Boe, J.J. Guedet, Tyler Cooper, Aireontae Ersery, Martes Lewis, and Tyrell Lawrence
Spring Enrollee(s): Karter Shaw
Fall Enrollee(s): Cameron James, Saia Mapakaitolo, and Logan Purcell
2020 Season In Review
It was a roller coaster season for the Minnesota Movers. To start the year, starting right guard Curtis Dunlap J. was sidelined for the season with a torn ACL and starting right tackle Daniel Faalele opted out due to COVID concerns. With Blaise Andries shifting to right tackle and Axel Ruschmeyer getting the starting nod at left guard, the Gophers’ offensive line struggled in pass protection, surrendering 2.75 sacks per game through their first four games.
Then came the COVID outbreak, which not only cost the team two of their games but also forced them to field a patchwork offensive line against Nebraska. With Ruschmeyer and John Michael Schmitz sidelined, redshirt freshman Nathan Boe earned his first career start at center and true freshman Aireontae Ersery made his first career start at right tackle.
The hope is that the game of musical chairs will pay dividends in 2021, with the entire starting five from 2020 returning, in addition to Dunlap and Faalele. There was uncertainty as to when Faalele would return to the team and what kind of shape he would be in after working out on his own, but he is back at Minnesota and has been a full participant in spring workouts and practices. There is also word out of camp that Faalele has actually dropped his weight from 420 lbs. down to around 380, which would suggest his time away from the program was spent wisely.
This will be the deepest offensive line of the P.J. Fleck era at Minnesota, and I haven’t even mentioned the addition of Utah State transfer Karter Shaw. It is uncertain whether he’ll be immediately eligible this fall — the NCAA has delayed a decision on the proposed one-time transfer rule — but regardless of whether he is able to provide depth in 2021, he’ll be a factor at either guard or center in 2022. Olson and Schlueter will be walking out the door, and Andries, Faalele, and even Schmitz will all have NFL decisions to make.
With the possibility of having to break in a brand new starting offensive line in 2022, it is critical that Minnesota capitalize on the bevy of talent and experience they are bringing back for 2021. It also means that spring practice and fall camp will provide ample opportunities for the rest of the offensive line to audition for pole position on the depth chart.
Spring Watch List
- Keep everyone healthy. I doubt Dunlap has been cleared to participate in spring practice, so he likely won’t be able to make a play for the a spot in the starting five until fall — and even that may be a tall order. But Faalele is back and likely looking to re-claim his starting spot at right tackle. I would not be surprised if he is back in the starting lineup by the end of spring practice, with Andries moving back to guard and pushing Ruschmeyer to the bench. That is what I’ll be watching for. Beyond that, keep all of the starters healthy. I’m glad they have depth at the position, but I’d prefer not to have to dig into it.
- Fill out the depth chart. Speaking of depth, I’d like a clearer picture of what the second-string offensive line looks like. I think Ersery and J.J. Guedet are the names to watch at tackle, and there will be competition at guard among Boe, Martes Lewis, Tyler Cooper, and Tyrell Lawrence. I’ll be interested to see if Shaw gets some work at center, too.