Gophers' Stommes aims to measure up

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tim Brewster knows what an NFL player looks like. So do the scouts that visit Minnesota to evaluate Gophers players.

When they look at a filled-out Matt Stommes, they like what they see.

"He just has some great measurables," Brewster said.

Stommes doesn't just pass the eye test. He aces it. The senior is 6-foot-7 and 296 pounds and has arms that measure 36 inches, the same as Denver Broncos first-round pick Ryan Clady.

He looks the part of an elite offensive tackle, and this spring he's getting the chance to prove himself.

Brewster surprised some when he announced that Stommes would open spring ball as Minnesota's starting left tackle. After all, this is a guy who played defensive line for two years and didn't log significant playing time along the offensive front until late last season.

But Stommes made a surprising start at right tackle in the Insight Bowl against Kansas, and as the Gophers change gears on offense to a pro-style, power run attack, he very much figures in the plans.

"It just sometimes happens like that," Brewster said, "where it takes a guy a little while to get to the right spot."

Or, in Stommes' case, grow into the right spot.

He came to Minnesota as a 240-pound defensive end and immediately added 35 pounds his first year. After appearing in nine games as a sophomore, Stommes was asked to switch to offense in preseason camp last summer.

"I had mixed feelings right away," he said. "Playing a bunch my sophomore year, I was like, 'Well, what's going to happen now? Am I going to play at all this year?' So it was a little more encouraging to get some playing time in at the end of [2008], just fed off of that in the offseason."

Stommes added another 20 pounds or so last year to top out at around 295 pounds, though he's leaner than most of the Gophers' linemen.

"When I was a kid, I always had the mentality to be active," said Stommes, who recorded 12 tackles (two for loss) in 2007. "And I give a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning staff. They're excellent. They know how to put the right weight on us."

The adjustment in technique from defense to offense took some time to pick up. Stommes went from reacting and moving forward to "sitting back, kind of in an awkward position."

But there are benefits to playing offensive line, especially when you know the opponent's thought process.

"It's a little different when you go up to the line knowing what you're going to do," Stommes said. "I try to use some things I learned on defense and try to apply them to offense, what they're trying to do to you on a 1-on-1 basis."

Brewster's hiring of new offensive line coach Tim Davis in late November marked the first step toward a fundamental transition of offensive philosophy. It was clear early on that Stommes factored heavily in Davis' vision for the group.

Ryan Wynn had started every game at right tackle during the regular season, but he shifted to left guard as Stommes made his first career start. For spring ball, Dom Alford moved from left tackle to left guard, clearing a spot for Stommes.

"Obviously, it's nice to be running with the 1s," Stommes said, "but it's something each person wants to fight for."

Stommes is aware of his pro potential, but he doesn't dwell on it.

"The coaches sometimes say something," he said. "They're just trying to get me motivated, which is a good thing. All that matters right now is running a good offense, running a good offensive line. That's what I'm focused on."