Moving a 6-foot-9, 320-pound guy to a place he doesn’t want to be can’t be easy. Jonah Pirsig is hoping Matt Limegrover won’t even try.
A week from kickoff, Pirsig has played his way off the bench and into a starting spot on the Gophers offensive line. The sophomore tackle is hoping his strong preseason play will persuade his offensive coordinator to leave him right where he is.
Starting left tackle Ben Lauer has a high-ankle sprain, and in the shuffling, Pirsig wrapped his big paws around the starting right tackle position.
“I’m going to do my best to keep that spot once Ben gets back,” Pirsig said. “It’s all about competition from there on out.
“Coach [Jerry] Kill and Limegrover always say the best five will play, it doesn’t matter what position. … At this point, I think I’m in that group of five, so I’m just concentrating on staying there.”
Josh Campion held down the right tackle spot when training camp opened, but he headed west to left tackle when Lauer went down. That opened the door for Pirsig. With Eastern Illinois (Thursday) and Middle Tennessee State (Sept. 6) the first two opponents, Limegrover & Co. could play it safe and let Lauer get to 100 percent, giving the Gophers’ biggest player and one of the program’s biggest 2012 recruits his first collegiate start.
“I’ll have crazy butterflies in my stomach,” Pirsig said. “And even right now, being a week away, I’m kind of nervous. But I’m sure after that first play all the butterflies will go away. It’ll just be about playing football.”
Playing football was the goal this week, after a couple of nagging injuries temporarily derailed Pirsig’s push to be a starter. He “tweaked” his groin last week but said Thursday that he’s back to full speed.
“We’re banged up, but it’s Week 3 [of camp],” Limegrover said. “Everybody is going to be banged up.”
Limegrover said the team is being “cautious” with Lauer. “He’s made some progress, done some things, but at the same time, [if] you rush that back, you might be right back at square one.”
Limegrover and Pirsig, from Blue Earth, spent time in the film room this preseason while Pirsig was healing, studying his pass blocking and technique against an edge rush. Back on the field this week, he had fresh legs and is prepared to prove that he can live up to the hype that followed him to campus.
“Right now,” he said, “is a good opportunity for me to show the fans that I wasn’t a waste of a scholarship.”
Fruechte feeling good
The Gophers have at least eight players who could see playing time at receiver — from freshmen to seniors with hundreds of plays of experience. Isaac Fruechte is the latter, and he’s eager to leave a strong legacy in his last season.
“I definitely am excited,” he said. “Hopefully I can contribute in any way I can and try and help the team win. Hopefully get into that Big Ten title game and win a bowl game.”
As a junior, Fruechte, from Caledonia, caught just 13 passes, but his best game statistically was the last one: He had three grabs for 41 yards in the bowl-game loss to Syracuse. He will be pushed for playing time, especially considering the four talented-but-raw true freshmen in camp. But even as he competes, Fruechte doesn’t forget his senior leadership role.
“I try and help the young guys,” he said. “Make them feel at home, that’s a big thing for me.
“[Competition] is a good thing for us, it pushes us, keeps us motivated. Bringing in talent guys, you see how raw they are, how athletic they are — you see that you really gotta come to work.”
The team practiced Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium, running through their game-day routine, and it will switch from training camp to a game-week routine next week. The motions at TCF, and the knowledge that kickoff is a week away, brought some extra energy to practice.
“There was a lot of juice today,” Pirsig said. “Being the last day of camp, everybody’s excited about that. … Everybody brought good energy today. We got a lot done — ready for Eastern Illinois.”
Limegrover made it clear, however, the Gophers won’t start coasting. When asked how many offensive starting positions are still up for grabs, he responded quickly: “Eleven.”
“It’s always a competition,” he added. “Coach Kill’s going to have that as part of his tombstone. It’ll make them all better.”
WR picks Gophers
The Gophers landed a coveted wide receiver recruit when Almonzo Brown, from Suwanee, Ga., committed Thursday night, despite receiving offers from Florida, Iowa, Georgia Tech and Kansas State. The 6-2, 214-pound Brown is a consensus three-star recruit and the 11th commitment the Gophers have received for their 2015 class.
Staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this report.