Miller working to improve offensive line

Injuries on the line last year were one reason the Gophers’ record regressed.

Offensive line coach Bart Miller runs Gopher players through a drill during their Spring Practice on Saturday morning.

Maddy Fox

Offensive line coach Bart Miller runs Gopher players through a drill during their Spring Practice on Saturday morning.

Mike Hendrickson

Bart Miller said at his introductory press conference in January that people should expect “physical, hardnosed player[s]” on his offensive line.
 
 
With spring practice winding down, the Gophers’ young offensive line coach believes his group is closer to accomplishing that goal.
 
 
“We got a young group that we’re trying to [overhaul] what they’ve done technique-wise, scheme-wise,” Miller said on Thursday. “I think we’re making strides in creating that physical culture.”
 
 
The Gophers offensive line struggled amid injuries and inconsistent play last season, which was a key reason the team had its first losing-season since 2012.
 
 
Head coach Tracy Claeys replaced offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, who also served as the team’s offensive coordinator, with Miller in the offseason to try and right the unit and help the Gophers contend again in the Big Ten West Division.
 
 
“[Miller] expects a lot more. He doesn’t allow you to take a play off ever,” said redshirt senior Jonah Pirsig, who is returning as the team’s starting right tackle. “From what we’ve seen on tape, a lot more guys [are] on the ground on defense, which is a good thing for us. It’s all about being more physical.”
 
 
One of the changes Miller is bringing to the offensive line is personalized note sheets, handed out to every lineman when the group meets.
 
 
“He’s got every play that we ran scripted out, tells us what we did wrong, what we did well. We go through every play,” Pirsig said. “That just takes a lot of time for him to do. I know we haven’t had that in the past, but it just means it’s really important to us.”
 
 
Pirsig is one of the only veterans amid a group of mostly young or inexperienced members of Minnesota’s offensive line.
 
 
Sophomore Tyler Moore returns after starting the last eight games of his first season at center. Junior Connor Mayes is also back after starting the team’s first nine games last season at guard.
 
 
Outside of those three, none of the Gophers  offensive linemen have started a game for the team.
 
 
Minnesota is expecting immediate contributions from two junior college transfers, Garrison Wright and Vincent Calhoun. Wright has a chance to start at left tackle while Calhoun has a chance to start at right guard, and Miller said both have impressed.
 
 
“[Wright and Calhoun] have added a physical element. They’ve got some ability,” Miller said. “Vince has had a great spring and has shown he is a very tough competitor. … Garrison has shown the versatility to play inside and out.”
 
 
This season, the Gophers will need several young players to emerge as capable backups in case injuries strike again. The team has 16 linemen total in spring practice, with two freshmen set to join the team in the summer.
 
 
“The depth there is a concern, but I think we can get one group, I know we can, to do what we want to do,” Claeys said. “A big area of concentration will be the younger offensive linemen to see what they can do. They have to go against good players, so they need to go in there against the [starting defensive line] … just see where they’re at.”