Gophers fall camp Day 14: Ed Olson still battling to reclaim LT spot
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Redshirt junior Marek Lenkiewicz appears to still have a slight edge on redshirt senior Ed Olson for the Minnesota Gophers' starting spot at left tackle.
Lenkiewicz came into camp situated with the first team offense after moving ahead of Olson in the spring when the 27-game starter was out rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery.
Midway through fall camp, Lenkiewicz has not yielded the spot where he started four games at when Olson was knocked out by injury six games into the year.
Offensive coordinator and O-line coach Matt Limegrover said "there's probably not a whole lot of difference right now" in terms of where the competition between the two is now compared to where it was at the start of camp. That means it is still a tight battle.
Bouncing back from a difficult start technically, Olson was playing arguably the strongest he had in his three seasons at the "U" when he tweaked his ankle. Battling lingering pain, Olson was able to make it back to start in the final three games last season. But soon after the season was over, Olson made the decision to have surgery.
Olson wasn't able to practice fully until summer workouts began in June, but has worked aggressively since to put himself in a position break back into the Gophers' strengthening front line.
The 6-foot-5, 289-pound Lenkiewicz has excelled since moving into the top role at left tackle, ensuring that Olson has a formidable battle at hand if he wants to reclaim his spot before the Aug. 29 season opener.
And for Olson, that's the way he wants it.
"I want to prove myself," Olson said. "Lenkiewicz had a great spring. The whole O-line did great. I don't want to just jump right back in there. It's been great just working with the team. It feels great."
Olson missed the Gophers' first scrimmage of camp last weekend as a result of flu-like symptoms, but played in the scrimmage Thursday and will play on Saturday. Those scrimmages play a crucial role in Limegrover's decision process of who his starting-five will be.
• The Gophers plan to treat their Saturday night scrimmage like a mock game day, keeping with the usual pregame run of meetings, locker room prep, etc. It is a way to help some of the team's newcomers get an idea of what to expect come Aug. 29. The scrimmage is not open to the public.
• Regardless of who wins the position at battle at middle linebacker, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys prefers that player to be largely a season-long fixture.
"I don't want to rotate a mike linebacker," Claeys said. "I think that's part of the reason why we've struggled in the past."
Redshirt freshman Jack Lynn and Jones County Community College transfer Damien Wilson are the two key contenders vying for the spot. Lynn was getting the bulk of the first team reps at the end of Week 1 of fall camp, but Wilson continues to make a strong impression on the coaching staff and has been alternating with Lynn. That starting spot will start to be firmed up early next week.
• Playing time is up for grabs in the Gophers' fluid receiver rotation, and freshman receiver Eric Carter is a potential candidate to earn plenty of looks in his first season. Carter's reps throughout the fall have come mainly with the first and second team offenses. And the Lakeland, Fla. native is quickly forming a solid on-field relationship with starting quarterback Philip Nelson.
"I think Eric Carter is doing a great job with learning the offense," Nelson said. "He's almost starting to know when even if we're supposed to run a certain route he can convert it to something else and get himself open. He's doing a great job of creating separation for himself."
• One day later, here is more info from Thursday's scrimmage: Briean Boddy-Calhoun had a pair of "impressive" interceptions. This only furthers the projection that Boddy-Calhoun is going to be a key piece in the Gophers' secondary this season.
"Briean Boddy has a had a great camp. Great camp," Kill said. "He picked two yesterday ... He made big time plays."
• Kill on new linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson: "They'll have to be good football players for us to be a good football team."
• Former Osseo high school star Will Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 248-pound tight end Will Johnson recently announced he is transferring from West Virginia. The redshirt freshman is just starting to pursue transfer options, but at this point do not expect the Gophers to show much interest, if at all.
• Kill is hoping to have freshman linebacker De'Niro Laster back by next Tuesday's practice. Laster, who is possibility to play as a true freshman, has been out since Aug. 8 with a knee injury.
• Junior cornerback Derrick Wells practiced fully Friday, but is likely to be held out again from Saturday's scrimmage to keep his recovering shoulder out of contact.