Senior Jonah Pirsig has already played in 32 games in his collegiate career, including starting each of Minnesota's 13 games last season. Pirsig is the leader of this young group of offensive lineman and is a model of stability for a group that saw a lot of flux last season. Pirsig figures to be the cornerstone at right tackle this season and he's going to be key in both protecting fellow senior Mitch Leidner and getting the running game back on track this fall.
Minnesota pulled sophomore center Tyler Moore's redshirt last season against Purdue once Brian Bobek went down with a concussion and the true freshman never looked back as the Gophers rushed for over 300 yards in Moore's first start. Moore is one of the most aggressive offensive lineman on roster and he's a tone setter for an offensive line that could use a little anger. With Bart Miller now at the helm of this group, look for him to use Moore as an example of how to play with a fire lit under your behind. Moore has a very bright future at center and looks to be a four-year starter by the time his career is over.
Mayes came into Minnesota with high expectations as an Army-All American in 2014 and he played in 21 games during his first two season. Now Connor looks to be the starter at left guard for the Gophers at 2016 and Minnesota hopes that he grabs a hold of that spot for his final two years. Mayes has all the ability that you want at offensive line and just needs to play like the mean and aggressive offensive lineman that he showed coming out of high school. Still a lot of expectations for Mayes the next two years.
Junior college transfer Garrison Wright looks be Minnesota's starter at left tackle after a productive spring. Wright was banged up at the start of spring ball, but once he was healthy, looked to have gained full control of that left tackle position. Mitch Leidner has seen far too much pressure from his blindside the last two years and with Wright now there, he is Minnesota's most athletic left tackle of Leidner's career. Hopefully Wright can fill a void there at left tackle.
Maybe the most athletic lineman on the roster now is another junior college transfer is Vincent Calhoun. The Georgia native took control at right guard and looked more and more comfortable at the position as each spring practice went on after playing tackle at the junior college level. Calhoun is another guy with a high ceiling that if he can adjust quickly to the guard position this fall, things could really open up in the running game.
Junior in-state tackle Chad Fahning was the surprise of the spring maybe of the entire offense as he was one of the Gophers most improved, if not the most improved offensive lineman on the roster. Fahning at the very least will be Minnesota's swing tackle this fall, and that's an all too important position with both Wright and Pirsig missing various time recently. The DeLaSalle product figures to have a very important role this fall for the Gophers.
Minnesota signed 2016 Coffeyville C.C. tackle Donnell Greene late in June over Missouri, and while long-term, Greene could be a future starting tackle at Minnesota, I think for this season, the expectations for him should be for Greene to be the swing tackle as he adjusts to Big Ten Football. I wouldn't rule out that Greene could work his way into playing time this fall, but where he'll really be counted on is in 2017 as he could become a cornerstone at either tackle position.
The depth behind the starters for Minnesota on the offensive line may be the biggest question on the entire roster for the Gophers heading into the season. If the starters can play 85% of the snaps, the Gophers offense should absolutely take a step forward from last year. If they can't, Minnesota's young depth is going to be tested.
Guys like Nick Connelly, Quinn Oseland, Jared Weyler and Bronson Dovich need to have great summers in the weight room to be ready for Gophers this fall as they're going to be guys likely within the two deep. Other guys like Ted Stieber, Ryan Just, Luke Rasmussen and Matt Leidner also have to remain ready if called upon. True freshmen Conner Olson and Sam Schlueter are likely to redshirt, but with so much uncertainty in the two deeps, I'm not ruling anything out yet.
Projected 2016 depth chart
LT: Garrison Wright - Donnell Greene
LG: Connor Mayes - Quinn Oseland
C: Tyler Moore - Jared Weyler
RG: Vincent Calhoun - Jared Weyler
RT: Jonah Pirsig - Chad Fahning
When junior Steven Richardson is healthy, he's a one man wrecking crew along the Gophers defensive line. Richardson had eight tackles for loss last season (second on the team) and 3.5 sacks in only 10 games of work because of injury, and the games where Richardson was close to 100%, he averaged almost a tackle for loss a game. If Steve is able to stay healthy for 2016, there's no reason to think he wouldn't have close to double digit tackles for loss along the interior of the defensive line.
Ekpe will be going on his fifth year of eligibility this fall and the Minnesota staff hopes he's ready to go out with a bang. The senior defensive tackle played in every game his first two season in Dinkytown, but injuries have detailed his past two seasons as a knee injury lost him 2014 and a concussion caused him to miss the last half of the 2015 season. Now presumably 100% healthy, Scott is expected to have a major role at defensive tackle this fall.
Junior college defensive tackle Merrick Jackson made a big impression this spring during his first semester on campus. Jackson really turned it on during the latter half of the spring and was one of the most disruptive players on the Gophers defense as he was more times than not in the backfield causing havoc. If Jackson can continue that play from the fall, he's absolutely going to challenging to start along side Richardson for Minnesota and Jay Sawvel this fall.
Stelter has played in 25 games during his first two years at both defensive tackle and defensive end, and looks to be switching to full-time defensive tackle this spring as he's near the 285 mark now. I wish that Stelter would have been able to redshirt his freshman year as he's just now starting to really grow into his body and put on the necessary weight and strength to compete as a Big Ten defensive lineman. Stelter is going to a key role as a defensive tackle this fall and it'll be exciting to see what he can do now as an upperclassmen.
Gary Moore redshirted this past season after playing sparingly as a true freshman. The Alabama native looked good in spring ball and should have a role rotating in at the defensive tackle spot this fall. Moore has the Big Ten body, but just has to keep his pad level low and maintain leverage consistently. He's more than strong enough, but just has to keep working day in and out.
Elmore is really the only known of who is will be starting at defensive end after taking a step forward this spring. Elmore has the body of a Big Ten defensive lineman, and just need to keep working there and developing an arsenal of moves with defensive line coach Jeff Phelps. Elmore like Stelter and Richardson, has played extensively during his first two seasons at Minnesota, and there's no reason not to expect Gaelin to emerge this fall.
Other guys that look to have a role at defensive end are Hank Ekpe, Winston DeLattiboudere and Julien Kafo as well. Ekpe has played a lot of snaps for Minnesota, but doesn't have a lot to show for it in terms of stats. DeLattiboudere redshirted last season and had a kind of spring where it wouldn't be surprising to see him emerge along side Elmore at DE. He's got a motor that keeps running and is relentless in his pursuit. Kafo is still getting up to speed with the American game from Canada, but he's got the body to do damage.
Projected 2016 depth chart
DE: Gaelin Elmore - Julien Kafo
DT: Steven Richardson - Andrew Stelter
DT: Merrick Jackson - Scott Ekpe
DE: Hank Ekpe / Winston DeLattiboudere