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Gophers center John Michael Schmitz stands out at Senior Bowl

Regarded as one of the top interior offensive lineman, Schmitz is moving up draft rankings

Offensive lineman O'Cyrus Torrence of Florida (56) practices with offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz of Minnesota (74) on Feb. 2, 2023 — the third day of Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama.
American offensive lineman O'Cyrus Torrence of Florida (56) practices with American offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz of Minnesota (74) on Feb. 2, 2023 — the third day of Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama.
Vasha Hunt / USA Today Sports

John Michael Schmitz built a sterling reputation during the 57 games he played for the Gophers football team since 2019. He confirmed that status during practices for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, last week.

“He’s the top center. Not even close,” Pro Football Focus analyst Mike Renner said.

In the showcase against top prospects in the 2023 NFL draft class, the 6-foot-3, 306-pound center from Flossmoor, Illinois, drew praise for his ability to out-leverage and overpower opponents during one-on-one drills, his athleticism to block downfield on screen passes and compete through the whistle on a consistent basis.

Jordan Reid of ESPN said Thursday, “a strong argument can be made (Schmitz) has been the best player at the Senior Bowl.”

His performance certainly will improve his draft position. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler said Schmitz looked like a second- or third-round pick based on his 2021 season. His film in 2022 “wasn’t as clean, especially in pass protection, which clouded his projection.”

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Schmitz, an All-American and finalist for the Rimington Award last fall, allowed only two sacks in 302 pass-rush snaps in 2022.

At the Senior Bowl this past fall, Brugler wrote Schmitz “looked like his old self” and an “immediate NFL starter.”

Schmitz was pegged as the 68th-best prospect before he opted out of Minnesota’s 28-20 win over Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl in December. He has since moved up to 53rd in PFF’s list.

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Gophers cornerback Terell Smith also impressed during his work before the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas last week.

“Smith was the best corner of the week,” wrote CBS Emory Hunt. “Man coverage skills, ball skills and instincts, combined with physical tools made him stand out in all facets.”

Smith played in the Shrine Bowl alongside former Gophers safety Jordan Howden and quarterback Tanner Morgan. Tailback Mo Ibrhaim practiced but did not play in the game.

Analysts added

The Gophers have hired Eric Koehler as a senior offensive analyst, a source told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last weekend. Koehler had been offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Miami (Ohio) for the previous nine seasons.

In late January, the Gophers announced three staff additions: Dennis Dottin-Carter as senior defensive analyst, Keegan O’Hara as offensive analyst and Shaq Vann as a graduate assistant for the offense.

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O’Hara was a graduate assistant at Ohio State last season, Vann comes from a stint as a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan, and Dottin-Carter was co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Yale.

Assistant salaries

New co-offensive coordinators Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh will each earn $600,000 on one-season contracts that run until Jan. 31, 2024, according to a St. Paul Pioneer Press data request.

In December, defensive coordinator Joe Rossi received a raise to $1.1 million in the first year of the contract from December 2022 to January 2024. Rossi, who was paid $800,000 under his previous deal, will receive $50,000 annual raises and is signed until January 2026.

New cornerbacks coach Nick Monroe, a Minnesota native who had been at Syracuse, will earn a $400,000 salary on a two-year deal to Jan. 31, 2025.

Offensive line coach Brian Callahan will earn $600,000 on a three-deal that expires Jan. 31, 2026.

Special-teams coach Rob Wenger will make $365,000, and safeties coach Danny Collins will receive $255,000. Both have one-year contracts.

New tight ends coach Andrew Sowder, who comes from Kent State, will be paid $210,000; new running backs coach Nic McKissic-Luke, who was at Northern Illinois, will make $220,000 through Jan. 2025; and new defensive line coach Wiston DeLattiboudere III, a Gophers alum coming from Akron, will make $220,000 on a deal through Jan. 31, 2024.

McKissic-Luke is on a two-year deal; Sowder and DeLattiboudere are on one-year contracts.

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