Offensive line battles multiple injuries for second-straight year

Multiple lineman are dealing with injuries this season

Gophers offensive lineman Jared Weyler, center, blocks on a running play against Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers offensive lineman Jared Weyler, center, blocks on a running play against Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016.

by Jack White

With redshirt senior Jonah Pirsig and junior Vincent Calhoun injured on the Gophers’ offensive line, the team’s other offensive linemen have responded.

Junior Connor Mayes, redshirt sophomore Jared Weyler, redshirt sophomore Donnell Greene, redshirt junior Chad Fahning and redshirt freshman Nick Connelly all made appearances in the Maryland game. The team had 229 yards rushing — the most it has put up since the game against Colorado State on Sept. 24.

“They’ve done a great job,” said offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. “Just with our tackle situation and then Garrison [Wright] got hurt, and all of the sudden [Connelly] and [Fahning] were in the game, so I give credit to [offensive line] coach [Bart] Miller because they did a good job and stepped in and allowed us to do some positive things.”

Weyler made his fourth start of the season Saturday. Weyler can play all three interior lineman positions and has been in the platoon lineman role for Minnesota. He said his goal was to help the offensive line any way he could.

“Obviously working on depth on the O-line. I’ve been proud to be that swing guy,” Weyler said “I’ve taken pride in that, and I’ve just been doing anything to help this team.”

Connelly is in his first year of collegiate playing time. The redshirt freshman made his debut against Indiana State.

Greene made his first-ever start against the Terrapins last week. Both Greene and Connelly saw an increased role in the game against the Terrapins.

“[Greene] had to step in here the last couple weeks in the Iowa game and then this week,” Johnson said. “Boy for his first start, there’s certainly technique things and things that we can improve upon, but I was very pleased with how he played.”

Minnesota needed all the help it could get from its offensive line when starting quarterback Mitch Leidner suffered a concussion.

Redshirt junior Conor Rhoda made his first start last game and threw for 82 yards.

“We didn’t want to get in a situation we had somebody running through on a blitz, got a sack fumble or put pressure on him through an interception,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “We felt good the way the defense was playing. What we did, we got very conservative about it.”

Minnesota’s run-first offense will go up against Rutgers for the Gophers’ Homecoming game Saturday.

The Scarlet Knights are ranked No. 123 in the nation when it comes to rush defense, giving up more than 263 rushing yards per game.

With Leidner likely out with a concussion, Minnesota will likely put the workload on its offensive line and running backs. Claeys said the offensive line has been improving lately.

“We played better,” Claeys said. “I still think we can improve on what we did. But we did finish some blocks, gave the backs a few more seams to be able to hit the seams, but we still got to be able to make improvement up there.”