Olson's injury latest for U's thin offensive line

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2011 - 6:42 AM

Freshman left guard Tommy Olson remains sidelined by an ankle sprain he suffered Saturday, coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday, likely leaving the position to Caleb Bak, who made his collegiate debut last Saturday. The Gophers are down to eight healthy offensive linemen, but offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said he's doing his best to keep from having to dip any further into the ranks of freshmen who are redshirting.

"You don't want to mortgage the future just for the next couple of games," Limegrover said, even though the Gophers have a few who could probably play. "A guy like [senior Chris] Bunders is invaluable because he can play other spots."

Speaking of playing other spots, tight end Eric Lair is working with the wide receivers, helping to solidify their ranks now that slot receiver Marcus Jones is out for the season with an injury. Some of the freshmen and junior-college transfers have shown promise, the coach said, but aren't ready to contribute regularly. Lair, a native of Houston, obviously is.

"He played receiver in high school," Kill said of the senior, who caught 39 passes a year ago. Lair's blocking ability and 6-3, 240-pound size makes him ideal at the slot, the coach said. "We felt like the physicalness of what we need at receiver, he's been able to bring some of that," Kill said. "He's a good athlete. I wish we had him for a couple more years, because he really works hard at trying to learn what to do."

Uplifting visit

After the normal warmups last Saturday afternoon, the Gophers headed to their locker room in TCF Bank Stadium. Where things were decidedly not normal.

Waiting for the current players in the center of the room was Floyd of Rosedale -- surrounded by 89 former Gophers, applauding and cheering for what they hoped would be an upset of Iowa.

"Coach Kill reached out to [Minnesota alumni] and said, 'Hey, let's get behind the guys.' We wanted to get in there and fire up the players a little bit," said Ray Hitchcock, a Gophers center who played for Joe Salem and Lou Holtz in the mid-1980s. "There was no agenda but to support to the players."

Kill went through his pregame reminders, discussing in detail what he expected from his offense, defense and special teams, then put in a videotape of the finish of Iowa's 45-21 victory in 2002.

"He showed them the knuckleheads from Iowa tearing down the goalposts in the Metrodome," Hitchcock said. "It was very emotional. Coach was very effective at bringing it all together."

At bringing together the past and present, too. Kill's invitation to the ex-players was enthusiastically accepted, said Bob Stein, an All-America linebacker in the mid-1960s.

"It was a big step, I thought, toward having a family relationship between current and past, and maybe even future, players," Stein said. "It gives continuity to the entire program. The message conveyed, subliminally and very directly, was 'We're behind you guys, no matter the record.'"

Defensive end D.L. Wilhite said the players, already fired up to defend their trophy against Iowa, appreciated the cheering section in the locker room.

Must-see TV

Limegrover spent Tuesday night watching football, as usual. Only this wasn't tape of practice, or of Michigan State's defense. It was a post card from his past.

Northern Illinois rallied past Toledo, 63-60, and the Gophers' offensive coordinator -- and former architect of NIU's offense -- enjoyed the show.

"At one point, all 11 kids on the field had been playing for us last year, so it's really neat to watch that," Limegrover said. "I felt like a proud dad."

He wasn't the only one. Kill called Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish on Wednesday morning to congratulate him on his six-touchdown-pass performance, one that ended with the go-ahead score in the final 19 seconds.

"I saw where he had a pretty good game --I think I got a chance to see the last eight or 10 plays," Kill said. Harnish "is a heck of a kid. I'm happy for him. ... He's got pretty good receivers, too."

Limegrover said he can see progress that the Huskies have made under new coach Dave Doeren.

"Those coaches have done a phenomenal job of putting their own fingerprints on that team, and really have taken it to the next level," Limegrover said. "It's really neat to see."

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