Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Monday, March 5, 2012

Analyzing depth at the Offensive Guard/ Center Position

Interior line play was a bit of a jumbled mess during 2011 as injuries and inconsistent play resulted in a variety of different starting lineups. One area of consistency was at center where Ryan Wynn started all 12 games as a senior. Wynn had 26 starts during his career, but was never a dominant player. Ryan Orton was another senior member of the offensive line that will not be available for the 2012 season. Orton provided some versatility, but again is not an irreplaceable talent. While we lose Wynn and Orton's experience, I think we will find that is easily made up for by a significant upgrade in the talent level of the players replacing them.

Tommy Olson: was the centerpiece of the 2011 recruiting class. He was a solid 4 star recruit on ESPN and ranked as the #14 guard in the country. Rivals named him to the second team All America team. Tommy is a Minnesota native that played high school ball at Mahtomedi. Tommy is a solid 6'4 289 lbs. His brother is Gopher offensive tackle Ed Olson. Tommy wasted no time getting on the field, as he played in 11 games as a true freshman. He started 3 games at right guard. Tommy is another of the outstanding young offensive linemen that chose to stay home and represent the Gophers. He has excellent size and athleticism for the guard position and shows true explosion out of his stance that enables Tommy to reach 2nd level defenders with relative ease. Many are projecting him to have locked up the left guard position next to his brother Ed for 2012 and the foreseeable future.

Zac Epping: was a part of the 2010 recruiting class and redshirted during the 2010 season. Zac is 6'2" 297 lbs and hails from Kenosha, Wisconsin. During 2011, Zac played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman and was able to actually start the final 8 games of the season. He held up well considering he was only a redshirt freshman and he will benefit from another offseason to improve his strength and conditioning. It appears Zac will have the inside track to be the starting right guard heading into 2012.

Zach Mottla: arrived on campus as a walk on in 2009. He played his high school football for local powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall and ESPN ranked him the #8 center in the country. He redshirted in 2009 and did not see any action during 2010 either. During 2011, Zach received playing time as a reserve in games against USC, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. In 2012, Zach is a redshirt junior and weights in at 6'2" 290 lbs. I think Zach has the inside track to be the starting center in 2012.

Joe Bjorklund: was a part of the 2011 recruiting class and redshirted last year, so he will be a redshirt freshman in 2012. Joe weighs in at 6'5" 281 lbs and played his high school ball for Rosemount High where he earned AP All State honors as a senior and helped lead Rosemount to a 12-1 record and advanced to Class 5A Prep Bowl. ESPN ranked him has the #60 guard in the country. He is a physical blocker that enjoys contact and gets out of his stance quickly. However, he needs to continue to work on effectively maintaining his pad level and developing additional bulk and strength. I don't anticipate Joe being a starter in 2012, but rather be in the rotation should injuries arise. With his lean frame, he should be able to continue to bulk up and become an imposing blocker in the years ahead.

Josh Campion: is a redshirt freshman that hails from Fergus Falls, MN. He was originally a recruit in the 2009 class, but spent a year at prep school, Fork Union Military Academy, before signing in the 2011 class. He is 6'5" 310 lbs. Since Josh redshirted last year there hasn't been many opportunities to evaluate him, but he clearly possesses great size to anchor an interior line position. There has been some speculation that he may takeover as center. I could see Josh making a push to be the starting center if the staff chooses to go that way, otherwise he will provide valuable depth to the interior of the offensive line.

Isaac Hayes: is another illustrative member of the Gophers heralded in state class of 2012. In fact, according to ESPN he is the Gophers highest rated recruit in the 2012 class. ESPN ranked him the #112 player in the country and #9 offensive guard in the country. He played football for St. Thomas Academy and helped lead the team to a record of 20-2. Isaac was named first team all state by AP and the Pioneer Press. The scouting reports state that he has excellent explosion coming off the ball, great agility, uses his hands effectively and does a great job locating defenders while on the move. The bottom line is if he can live up to his accolades he will be another invaluable member of the Gophers offensive line. There has already been talk that his athleticism may warrant him making the move to center. If he moves to center, I think there is a distinct possibility that he wins the job this year. However, there must also be some consideration of redshirting him and utilizing Zach Mottla in 2012. Ultimately, I look for Isaac to be the Gophers starting center of the future.

Conclusion: The momentum that we began to generate after analyzing the offensive tackle position carries over to the interior line positions. The center position is a bit up in the air, but if my hunch about Isaac Hayes is correct that position is locked up for the foreseeable future. This is another extremely young but talented group. Both starting guards look to be sophomores and key depth is provided by redshirt freshmen. The other exciting aspect is that even though the group is young many of them have already obtained valuable Big 10 experience. The group provides great size to hold up in the physical Big 10 and will benefit from the continuity of working with each other over the course of the next 3 years. It is exciting to see the Gophers building a dominant offensive line. In a few years we could be looking at an impressive offensive line of upperclassmen led Jonah Pirsig, Tommy Olson, Isaac Hayes, Zac Epping and Jimmy Gjere. All of those guys, with the exception of Epping, arrived on campus as highly touted national prospects that received scholarship offers from big time programs across the country. The future is bright and the key will be to continually replenish the talent pool in the upcoming recruiting classes.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis on the O-Line both in this post and the one below that addresses our tackle position. This will be the strength of this team in the next few years. This should allow our skill players a much better chance to be sucessful. How far this team progresses this year will be more a function of whether or not our defense makes any significant improvement from last year. On that score I'm not convinced yet. Spring practice should give us a little more information and hopefully optimism about the Gopher D-Men.