Monday, August 17, 2009

Do we have the OL horses to run a pro-style offense?

With the addition of Jedd Fisch to the Gopher Football staff replacing Mike Dunbar at the helm of the offense, and Tim Davis as o-line coach, there are clearly going to be some changes afoot.

The Gophers have a long tradition of being able to run the football, but when Tim Brewster took over the program from Glen Mason, the offensive focus shifted to the spread. While the spread offense can certainly be a successful offensive scheme to run out of (see Dunbar's California and Northwestern teams earlier in the decade), it is still a pretty huge philosophical change as far as offensive styles are concerned.

One of the trademarks of the spread is that the quarterback generally starts out in the shotgun formation. Having the quarterback in the shotgun allows for quicker passes, among other things. Because the QB is in the shotgun, and because the focus is on shorter, quicker passes, the offensive linemen are not required to hold their blocks as long and the spread actually favors smaller more athletic linemen to the traditional big, bulky earth-movers of the old 3-yards and a cloud of dust type of offenses.

This fact created two problems for Coach Brewster. First of all, the Gophers didn't have a lot of quick, athletic linemen to insert into the spread, and second, the O-linemen that they were bringing in to fill this type of void were very young and weren't ready for the Big10 primetime.

Enter a new problem: now that we have had a couple of years of trying to insert players who weren't built for it, or players who were new to it, into the spread, we're switching back to more of a pro-style, run oriented offense. Which begs the question, do we have the players on the offensive line to run this type of offense?

I won't pretend to have an answer to this question, but let's look at some of the pieces.

The Gophers are obviously just in the midst of the dog days of training camp, so we don't know who will be the eventual starters. It's safe to say that the coaches are taking this camp to allow the competition at several offensive line positions to dictate the starters. Since we don't know the starters for sure, we can speculate. And when I say we, I mean me. So, here's my best guess:

C - Jeff Tow-Arnett (6'2", 285#)
G - Matt Carufel (6'5", 303#)
G - Dom Alford (6'3", 332#)
T - Jeff Willis (6'7", 375#)
T - Matt Stommes (6'7", 296#)

So, just for fun, let's say this is the starting line-up. That being the case, our average offensive lineman is 6'4", 318lbs... and these numbers are clearly swayed a bit by Jeff Willis, who we might as well go ahead and just start referring to as "House," not to be confused with the fictional t.v. doctor, but possibly to be confused with, you know, a house. Willis is more of what you would call a prototypical pro-style offensive lineman. He's big... and big. He can get in front of people, he can stay in front of people, and he can move them out of the way when needed. And did I mention that he's big.

The rest of the O-line, if these are in fact the starters, are probably more likely there because of experience than size. Tow-Arnett probably isn't the prototypical Center for a pro-style offense, but he's got a lot of experience on the line including starting last year before getting injured. Trey Davis is Tow-Arnett's biggest competition, and neither has a size advantage in the race.

Carufel was the top prospect in the state in 2006 and a top 10 offensive lineman in the country that same year. At that time he shunned the Gophers and went to Notre Dame. Much to our delight that didn't work out and Carufel came back home. We should not feel bad that it didn't work out at Notre Dame, because Carufel is as talented an offensive lineman as we've ever had. He did his time on the practice squad last year, where he won scout team player of the year honors, and he promises to be a major piece to the running puzzle for the Gophers.

There are several other Gophers who have some experience that will likely get them some playing time this season as well, including Ned Tavale and Ryan Ruckdashel who are both seniors, and D.J. Burris who is a junior. Talented youngsters like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders are also likely to crack the playing time list in certain situations.

If you read this blog last season, you know that the offensive line was a major sore spot for me. Too small to hold up to an entire Big10 schedule; too inexperienced to get into a rhythm. With another year of experience in their corner, another off-season in the weight room under their belts, and two new coaches that will focus heavily on the importance of the o-line, there is bound to be improvement.

Let's hope it's enough to make a major impact against some great Big10 defenses.

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