The loss of Jimmy Gjere on the Gophers' offensive line became permanent on Monday, when Jerry Kill announced that Gjere's concussion symptoms have returned and he was giving up the game.
It's a blow to the Gophers' depth on the line, but one that Kill and his staff had clearly been bracing for all along. The coach had been in contact with Gjere's parents, likely reassuring them that the Gophers would take no chances with their son's health. And the training staff had monitored his condition all along, knowing that a recurrence wasn't out of the question. After all, just a couple of miles away, the Twins have dealt with a similar situation with Denard Span and Justin Morneau, both of whom have sit out significant portions of the previous two seasons while trying to overcome symptoms that they had hoped were gone for good.
So in the wake of Gjere's understandable decision not to risk permanent damage to his brain, the Gophers will simply execute a plan they clearly had in mind all along. Remember, Josh Campion, another former concussion victim who so far has showed no sign of a relapse, was moved from guard to tackle six months ago because the coaches felt "he looks a little better out there with some space," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, and because the Gophers didn't know for sure what they would have available on the edge.
In addition, Kill resisted the urge to burn Foster Bush's redshirt last season, even when the Gophers were desperate for healthy bodies on the line. Kill and Limegrover preferred that the 19-year-old from Menasha, Wis., learn to play at this level before getting on the field. Now Bush has a year of practice experience, and he'll step right in behind Campion, helping to lessen the effect of Gjere's absence.
"He's had a good camp," Kill said of Bush. "He's learned a lot."
Kill hasn't given away any decisions yet, but the example of Bush leads me to believe that he doesn't intend to play any of this year's highly prized offensive tackles, either. Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig are getting reps in camp, but they're still growing into Big Ten size -- Lauer has increased from around 250 pounds on signing day, Kill said, to roughly 285 now -- and learning Big Ten gamesmanship.
"They are adjusting to the game. This is totally different than what they're used to, just the speed of the game," Kill said. "Jonah's dad was saying, 'Man, the speed is totally different than what he's used to.' "
Even without Gjere, the Gophers have reasonable two-man depth along the line right now, and another seven weeks before Big Ten play begins to get a few of the other returnees up to speed. Sean Ferguson, who played all 12 games last year, is eligible to return to action once school begins, for instance.
So while Gjere's loss is a shame, it shouldn't be crippling.
"I don't mean this in a bad way, but there's no one who's indispensable in this group," Limegrover said of his depth last March. "It wouldn't be like, 'Oh my God, this guy got hurt.' We've got a lot of guys coming along really well."