Gopher O-line – the future

The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ offensive line has been more than a little disappointing this year.  Let’s take a look at where it has been and where it appears to be going.

Tim Brewster arrived as head coach in the 2007 season, and that year the Gophers had a respectable offense – not great, but not awful.  (If you are wondering, the 1-11 record was due to the worst defense in the country…  Literally the worst: they were ranked 119 out of 119.  How Everett Withers got hired away by UNC, I’ll never understand.)  In spite of absorbing a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a completely new offensive system and starting a freshman quarterback, the offense achieved respectability because they had an experienced, senior-led offensive line.

46-287951284Well, as experienced seniors do, they graduated and left the 2008 Gophers with an offensive line composed of sophomores and redshirt freshmen.  You can imagine what happened to the offense – it traded places with the defense in terms of awfulness (although they didn’t reach 119 out of 119).  Complicating things was the loss of the best running back to a knee injury at the beginning of the season.  The sophomores and redshirt freshman linemen were thrust into the breach against defenses loaded with experienced juniors and seniors who had spent their entire college careers playing in one defensive system for one coordinator.  Fortunately for the Golden Gophers, the departed Everett Withers was replaced by  Ted Roof, a former Duke head coach, whose brilliant work and the help of some quality junior college transfers lifted the Minnesota defense to respectability.

So now where are we?  The 2009 Golden Gophers started the season with a brand new offensive coordinator and a brand new offensive line coach/running game coordinator.  The OC is a wunderkind who brought in a pro-style offense that is completely new to his charges.  The new OL coach has an impressive resume, with experience tutoring the offensive line at Southern California during national championship seasons.  Prospects for these two coaches appear very bright.

However, even though the OL is approaching a respectable level of maturity (a senior, 3 juniors and a sophomore), the new coaches have brought in a whole new offensive system.  The offense is absorbing this new system while playing against experienced defensive units well-schooled in the systems used to construct their game plans.  Being 4-4 at this point of the season against a tougher schedule than those of previous years is a real achievement.

So now let’s look at the future.  In 2010 I project the Gopher offensive line will include:

80-598633120LT – (will be a) Sr – Dominic Alford 6′ 3″ 336 – will live up to the level of talent his coaches have projected for him, after a year and a half of working with OL coach Tim Davis

LG – Jr – Chris Bunders 6′ 3″ 320 – incumbent who has graded out as the best offensive lineman more than once after games this year

C  – Jr – Ryan Wynn 6′ 5″ 295  – won the starting spot in going into 2009 before back problems caused  him to sit out the year

RG – Sr – Matt Carufel  6′ 5″ 305 – 4-star Notre Dame transfer and Cretin Derham Hall grad who should really blossom with a year of experience with Davis and the new system

RT – Sr – Jeff Wills – 6′ 7″ 350 –  JC Transfer who has been somewhat controversial because of difficulty living up to the outrageous expectations inspired by his size.  Has had to learn an entirely new offensive system as well as how to play in the Big 10 without the redshirt year afforded Carufel

Wild Cards that could affect the continuity of the line and the offense:

  • The possibility of bringing in another JC transfer.  Not my favorite idea, after seeing how long it has taken Carufel and Wills to adapt to the offense.  In my mind, it would be better to redshirt a JC transfer if he has a RS year available.
  • Two Brewster freshman scholarship recruits are redshirting this year (as are a couple of walkons), and given the talent upgrade we’ve seen from Brewster recruits over their predecessors, I see it as slightly possible that one of these youngsters could displace one of the linemen listed above.
  • Health and injuries.  Having a quintet of experienced linemen play a whole season together is not rare, but it is not something you can bank on.
  • Retention of coordinators.  Given Brewster’s history of losing coordinators, it must be seen as a possibility that OL coach Tim Davis, who is also “running game coordinator” could be spirited away by an SEC  team or somebody else with more money to spend, as were Ted Roof and Everett Withers after previous seasons

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football_02The most exciting thing about the future of the offensive line at the University of Minnesota is the list of 6 recruits currently committed to come play for the Golden Gophers (a 4-star and five 3-star recruits), with the slight possibility of adding a super-recruit or two.  We should soon see the weakness of the offensive line become a major strength.

Obviously, 6 recruits can’t all play, but it is likely that one or two will be moved to the defensive line and possible that one or two will bail before actually signing with Minnesota, or an upperclassman could transfer out.

But that’s how you build a quality roster in college football…

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