At this time last year, Minnesota headed into the offseason needing to replace four starters on the offensive line. Now the Golden Gophers find themselves in a similar position this offseason, with three starting offensive linemen walking out the door with their diplomas in hand.
The coaching staff has already looked to the transfer portal for help — offers were extended to Rhode Island offensive tackle Ajani Cornelius and Kent State offensive tackle Marcellus Marshall but the pair have since committed to Oregon and Central Florida, respectively — but for now we can review how things might shake out based on Minnesota’s internal options.
2022 Starter: Aireontae Ersery
Left tackle is probably the one spot on the offensive line where you can write the name atop the depth chart in ink. Aireontae Ersery will be the Gophers’ starting left tackle again next season after starting all 13 games at the position this year. Head coach P.J. Fleck has been very clear that he believes Ersery, who is coming off his third year in the program, is a future NFL offensive lineman. The left tackle spot likely belongs to him until he is playing on Sundays.
J.J. Guedet and Martes Lewis both saw second-string snaps behind Ersery this season.
2022 Starter: Axel Ruschmeyer
Axel Ruschmeyer graduates after starting all 13 games at left guard this year. Behind him, Nathan Boe, Karter Shaw, and Tyler Cooper all took snaps at left guard at various points throughout the season. Boe, who will be a sixth-year senior in the fall, is the odds-on favorite to start at center, which would make this a two-horse race between Shaw and Cooper.
Shaw, a former Utah State transfer, will be a sixth-year senior next season and has yet to start a game in his two years with the program, though he did appear in all 13 games this season. Cooper would be a fifth-year senior but his status is uncertain. He participated in Senior Day but has yet to officially announce whether he plans to return. Cooper is less experienced than Shaw, having only seen action in seven games over the last four seasons.
Cade McConnell and Ashton Beers are underclassmen options at guard.
2022 Starter: John Michael Schmitz
Nathan Boe getting the start at center in the Pinstripe Bowl was the end of an era at the position for the Gophers. John Michael Schmitz was a four-year starter for Minnesota and an All-American at the center spot. His shoes will not be easy to fill, but Boe will get first crack at stepping into them. I expect his chief competition for the starting center position will be Shaw.
If Boe is not starting at center, I would expect him to start at either guard spot.
2022 Starter: Chuck Filiaga
The former Michigan transfer started all 13 games at right guard this season.
If you haven’t deduced it by now, Boe, Shaw, and Cooper (if he opts to return for his final year of eligibility) are effectively playing a game of musical chairs with the three starting spots on the interior of the offensive line. But there is another possibility in play. There has been talk of Quinn Carroll moving from tackle to guard, and the fact that the coaching staff has been looking at offensive tackles in the transfer portal lends some validity to that steam.
Cooper not returning next season could force their hand, because from what I can tell the Gophers seem to have more viable options at tackle than they do at guard. McConnell and Beers will both be redshirt freshmen in the fall, hardly making them ideal candidates for a starting spot.
2022 Starter: Quinn Carroll
The Notre Dame transfer started all 13 games at right tackle for the Gophers, though he struggled mightily in pass protection at times, especially against more athletic edge rushers. Once he arrived on campus, Carroll was in competition with J.J. Guedet for the starting right tackle spot, but Guedet has struggled to stay healthy. For that reason, if Carroll ends up moving to right guard, I wouldn’t be surprised if Martes Lewis gets first crack at right tackle over Guedet.
Lewis is a third-year offensive lineman who saw action in all 13 games this season.
My best attempt at a rough depth chart for the start of spring practice:
LT: Ersery / Guedet / Tony Nelson
LG: Shaw OR Cooper / McConnell or Beers
C: Boe / Shaw
RG: Cooper OR Shaw / McConnell or Beers
RT: Carroll / Lewis / Logan Purcell
But obviously a lot can change between now and the first practice in March.