Hamilton leads young Gophers O-line

Murali Balaji

The Gophers’ offensive line has been one of the main areas of scrutiny this season, giving up almost five sacks per game thus far. The problem is not so much a lack of talent as it is a lack of experience along the line.
The Gophers front five is still young and finding its niche, and better cohesiveness and chemistry will not develop until later in the season. This week’s game against the Buckeyes will provide a barometer of how well they fare against a less-than-spectacular defensive front.

Ben Hamilton
Sophomore Center
6-foot-5, 279 pounds
Hamilton has constantly graded out as the team’s best offensive lineman. He has started every game since his freshman year and is a candidate for post-season honors in the Big Ten. Hamilton is only a sophomore, but he is one of the unquestioned leaders of the offense and provides a steady anchor while the rest of the line develops.
Hamilton gets a great push off of the line-of-scrimmage, and shows great patience in holding his blocks. He is technically sound, and has good balance for a big man. However, Hamilton is not a power blocker, which is one reason that the Gophers tend to run more off-tackle plays. He can pick up blitzes, but there have been a few times this season that he has missed an assignment in pass protection.
However, Hamilton is still one of the Big Ten’s finest at the center position, and his continued emergence will only make the unit better.
Pat Hau
Senior Guard
6-foot-6, 292 pounds
Hau was benched for one game (Purdue) before being re-listed as a starter at right tackle — until he suffered a concussion prior to the Penn State game and was forced to sit out. Hau is back in the starting lineup, and is now being used as a guard.
Obviously, his versatility is an asset, but on film, Hau doesn’t stand out in any particular category. He gets some push, but has a tendency to release from his blocks early. As a run blocker, Hau is adequate, but his strong suit is in the open field where he can seek out and take on defenders. His footwork is decent, but Hau tends to lose his ground in the battle of leverage. As the most experienced player in the starting unit, Hau is not any more developed as a blocker than some of the younger linemen.

Adam Haayer
Sophomore Tackle6-foot-6, 284 pounds
Haayer is the weakside tackle, which means he is in charge of protecting the left side of right-handed quarterbacks Andy Persby or Billy Cockerham. Haayer is a long-armed player with good size and strength, and those qualities alone have kept him afloat. His work ethic seems to be paying off, however, and Haayer is doing a decent job of pass protection. His one breakdown came against Purdue, when Rosevelt Colvin ran circles around him all afternoon. As a run blocker, Haayer lacks the explosiveness needed to explode off the line-of-scrimmage and bury the defender. He may need to add more bulk to develop into a better all-around lineman, but his improvement has been promising thus far.

Ryan Roth
Freshman Guard
6-foot-3, 306 pounds
Roth is in his first season playing for the Gophers. His ascendence to the starting unit came as a sign that the team was trying to add beef up front. Roth is still raw as an overall blocker. There are times when he seems to get the best leverage out of any of the team’s linemen, but his lack of polish is one of the reasons why he hasn’t consistently finished off of his blocks. Roth is a hard-nosed, low-to-the ground lineman, and he is beginning to close traps and form double-teams better than he had at the beginning of the season. However, consistency is still a problem, and Roth’s inexperience still shows when opposing teams blitz. His development will be aided by the fact that the unit as a whole will have a few more years to work together.

Erik Larson
Sophomore Tackle
6-foot-6, 277 pounds
Larson has been a pleasant surprise thus far. He stepped in for Hau at right tackle in week four and has started ever since. Larson has been praised for his aggressiveness and hard-nosed approach to the position; two things the Gophers need when playing against the conference’s best defenses. He is still developing physically, but his understanding of playing the leverage game works very much to his advantage. Like the other linemen on the team, Larson has difficulty with quick defensive linemen. He still needs to understand angles better; he occasionally shows hesitation in trapping and playing double teams, but his comfort zone will develop as the season progresses.

Others:
Jon Albrecht, Senior Guard, 6-foot-5, 326 pounds; Tim Socha, Senior Tackle, 6-foot-6, 296 pounds.