Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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Why Connor Mayes is playing guard, and what that says about the Gophers O-line

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting, Gophers preseason practice Updated: August 8, 2014 - 10:41 AM

 

One of Minnesota’s top recruits in this year’s freshman class is Connor Mayes, an offensive linemen from Van Alstyne, Texas, who played center in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

 

Scout.com ranked him as the No. 2 center in the nation, but the Gophers started camp with Mayes lined up at right guard on their third-team offensive line. The decision offers a pretty good window into where things stand with what’s shaping up to be a deep offensive line corps.

Here’s how the lines looked the first week of camp:

FIRST GROUP: LT Ben Lauer, LG Zac Epping, C Tommy Olson, RG Foster Bush, RT Josh Campion

SECOND GROUP: LT Joe Bjorklund/Marek Lenkiewicz, LG Isaac Hayes, C Brian Bobek, RG Luke McAvoy/Jon Christenson, RT Jonah Pirsig

THIRD GROUP: LT Luke Rasmussen/Alex Mayes, LG Jared Weyler, C Matt Leidner, RG Connor Mayes, RT Chad Fahning

Matt Limegrover, who serves as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, had several reasons for putting Mayes at guard.

“It’s all about your opportunities and getting a chance to get closer to the field,” Limegrover said. “The one thing about it is Tommy Olson, since he came in [when Christenson broke his leg last November] has done a really good job [at center]. And then behind him, Brian Bobek is really pushing Tommy.

“So you’ve got great competition there, and to be honest with you, playing center as a freshman is a tough deal. Playing guard takes a little bit of that pressure off,” Limegrover said. “We figured that would help him, and it would be an early conduit to get to the field."

Caleb Bak, the Gophers longtime starter at right guard, had to retire because of concussion symptoms, and Christenson is still working his way back from the leg injury. For now, Bush is holding on at right guard, but the Gophers have considered putting Campion at right guard with Pirsig at right tackle.

Mayes could be a couple injuries away from being right in the mix for playing time at guard. He's spending time in team drills at that position, and getting practice snapping to quarterbacks as a center off to the side. Olson is a senior, and Bobek is a redshirt junior. It might take two years, but Mayes could very well be the Gophers center of the future.

So for now, Mayes is a guard. "But as it goes," Limegrover said, "he’s not going to be too far from center."

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