The Gophers will begin practice two weeks from today feeling very good about their offensive line. Ed Olson has graduated, after splitting left-tackle duties with freshman All-American Ben Lauer, and right guard Caleb Bak had to retire because of concussion issues. But a ton of experience returns, along with some talented underclassmen.
Right now, here's my projection for the starting offensive line:
LT Ben Lauer 6-7, 315, 4 career starts
LG Zac Epping 6-2, 318, 34 career starts
C Tommy Olson 6-4, 306, 13 career starts
RG Josh Campion 6-5, 315, 26 career starts
RT Jonah Pirsig 6-9, 320, 0 career starts
Knee and wrist injuries have slowed Pirsig's development a bit, but even with a cast on his wrist during spring practice, the Blue Earth, Minn., native had clearly become a force. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who also coaches the offensive line, said in April that if Pirsig kept progressing, he could start at right tackle, with Campion moving to right guard.
Campion has started 26 consecutive games at right tackle, but there is an opening at right guard with Bak's retirement. Foster Bush [6-5, 304, 4 career starts] filled in admirably for Bak late last season, but there has been an assumption -- from outside the team anyway -- that Bush would be replaced this fall.
But in an interview this week, Limegrover kept several options open. Asked if Campion would be playing tackle or guard when practice begins Aug. 1, Limegrover said, "Yes."
"He’s been working at guard and working at tackle," Limegrover said. "Foster Bush has had a great offseason. This is the first extended period of time where he’s been healthy, been able to get in the weight room, and he’s more explosive than he’s ever been.
"And I think he’s no dummy. He’s looking around going, 'OK, this is my opportunity. I can either just be a guy or I can lay my claim.'
"[Campion] is at a point where, I don’t want to say he’s getting bored palying tackle because he can always get better. But he’s the kind of kid who loves the game. So if there’s additional time he can put in, he’s going to do it and get better at guard.
"You’ve got the young pup from Blue Earth [Pirsig], who’s hungry, who wants to do it. Jon Christenson [6-4, 298, 15 career starts] coming back [from his broken leg], doing a great job. I don’t know when he’ll be ready. I talked to him and said, 'You don’t have to be ready to win us a football game on Aug. 1. We’ll get you back there when you’re ready.' But he’s a smart kid, an experienced kid, a kid who’s worked his tail off. He’ll find a way to be a factor there.
"So a lot of those guys are doing a great job."