INDIANAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers have four players at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, including two who play offensive line.
Daniel Faalele and Blaise Andries are repping the Gophers up front and have heard great things about their position group from around the league. Both participated in media sessions Thursday morning.
"Yeah, we take a lot of pride [in our group]," Andries said. "We've gotten a lot of compliments from a lot of coaches about our O-line play and how it's amazing. I would go back and tell [Gophers Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Brian] Callahan that what he's doing and what he's worked on is getting noticed. We're trying to change the narrative of the Minnesota offensive line and try to bring it up to a [high] standard."
"I think it was a Dolphins guy yesterday was telling me we had a good offensive line and some fun blocks," Andries said. "The way we prepared, the way Callahan prepares us, everyone was impressed with our intelligence."
Faalele (coaches) and Andries (media) were each All-Big Ten First-Team selections, and both have unique backgrounds and have taken different paths that have landed them here in Indianapolis.
Faalele's story is well-known. He is an Australia native who played rugby growing up and was noticed by the University of Hawai'i as a teenager at a rugby camp.
He moved to the United States and attended IMG Academy, where his recruitment picked up and he eventually landed at Minnesota.
Faalele, who has only played football for five years, believes he still has plenty of room for growth as the start of his NFL career nears.
"I feel like the sky is the limit for me," Faalele said. "I just need some more coaching, and I feel like going to the next level, the NFL, is that for me.
"I'm excited to see what I can do," Faalele added.
Faalele played in 34 career games (with 31 starts) for the Gophers, with right tackle being his primary position.
And the 22-year-old was usually one of the largest players on the field, as he said Thursday that he is 6-foot-8 and currently weighs 385 pounds.
Faalele said NFL teams have been impressed with his size, but they have also wanted to see how much his football IQ has expanded in recent years.
"The biggest thing for me is how powerful I am and how athletic I am for my size," Faalele said. "I feel like I bring a lot of different intangibles with my size and length and using that to my advantage."
Andries has good size, too, at 6-6 and 335 pounds. But even he has been impressed by his teammate in recent years.
"I love the dude. Same thing I told the scouts, he was amazing to play with and so much fun," Andries said. "The double teams that we had together or whatever, you knew it was going to go well because we were playing with each other, right?
"We've been playing with each other so many years, so it was a lot of fun," Andries added. "His transition from not playing football, like, we knew he was an athlete right when he got there because he was doing the same athletic skills as the rest of us offensive linemen, it's just he was 100 pounds heavier [than us] when he first got there. We're all sitting there like, this guy's heavy, he probably needs to lose a few, but he's as athletic as the rest of us. That's the crazy part, right? We knew he was going to be a good ball player right then."
And while Faalele was a right tackle in college, Andries seemingly played anywhere and everywhere along the line.
The Minnesota native — Andries is from Marshall — started at every position along the offensive line in his career except center. He made five starts at left tackle, 11 at left guard, 21 at right guard and nine at right tackle over a four-year career.
That flexibility, Andries said, has endeared him to NFL teams.
"It's a huge thing and probably my No. 1 quality. I tell coaches I'm willing to play wherever they put me," Andries said. "If they want to line me up at Y … I'll split out. I'll do what I can. I can't promise I'll do the best at it, but I'll do it and am willing to sacrifice that for the team. I think that's my biggest attribute. That, along with my intelligence.
"Wherever you put me, I'll practice it and I'll learn it. Preferred is wherever I've been practicing lately," Andries later added. "Obviously, if you've never practiced left tackle for the longest time and you're playing right guard or something like that, if they throw you out at left tackle in the middle of a game — and you haven't practiced it — you might be a little rusty. That much is true. But as long as you stay up to date on your practice and do extra work, you'll be good."
While Andries, who was one of 10 finalists for the 2016 Mr. Football Award, is certainly talented enough on the field to be here at the combine, he might also be among the most interesting prospects from an educational standpoint, too.
He majored in applied business analytics at Minnesota, and you aren't alone if you have no idea what that is.
Vikings.com asked exactly what those studies entail.
"I'll take you through the whole story. So, coming out of high school, I wanted to be an actuary, they calculate insurance premiums and calculate risk or anything. That was my plan coming out of high school," Andries said. "Then I have this opportunity [at the combine] so I put that on hold. I had to get a master's [degree] so I went into applied business analytics. An actuary uses stats, finance, theoretical math. I really liked that, but it's just in insurance.
"So I'm like, 'OK, what if I want to broaden my stats, broaden my coding, all that stuff, in other business?' So I'm going to try to get into a master's that I know would already help me in different industries. I went into applied business analytics and learned a lot more coding, a lot more compiled data sets and worked with them. Just everything like that," Andries added. "I've been telling some coaches, 'Honestly, I'd really love to get into sports analytics maybe after I'm done here.' That would be something I love, honestly, both on the statistics side and the sports side. The trend you see right now is that a couple companies have a monopoly on sports analytics, and it would be fun to see some competition."
To put it in layman's terms, Andries loves working with numbers and data.
And he added that he's an advocate for being aggressive on fourth downs.
"Yeah, so I'd love to go for it on fourth down – fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2," Andries said. "Fourth-and-3, you're pushing it a little bit. Just from personal experience, I don't know the numbers, but fourth-and-3 you're pushing it a little bit. I'd love to run the ball on fourth."
The easygoing Andries also dove into how much coffee is too much coffee, and what his spirit animal is. (Answer: water buffalo — is what he told a team during a formal interview).
"Don't ask me why, I don't know," Andries said. "I was thinking through the safari and I was like water buffalo, they're big and they like water. That's as much reason as I need."
For now, Andries is putting all of his energy and efforts into carving out a career in the NFL. But he knows that he does have a backup plan if football doesn't work out.
"I got what I asked for, it was a lot of hard work, a lot of hard math," Andries said. "But I passed two actuarial exams, the probability exam and the financial mathematics exam.
"So really, if this didn't work out, I was good to go," Andries added.
Waletzko enjoying combine process
The stage just keeps getting bigger and bigger for Matt Waletzko.
The former North Dakota offensive lineman hails from Cold Spring and played prep ball at Rocori High School.
Each progression of his football journey has taken him to a new level, whether it's from Rocori to North Dakota to the Reese's Senior Bowl.
Waletzko now finds himself at the combine, surrounded by some of the top prospects in the country.
"I think sometimes guys knock you being from a smaller school," Waletzko said. "Definitely gives me a chip [on my shoulder] and motivates me."
Waletzko grew up about 80 miles outside of Minneapolis, as a Vikings fan. Jared Allen is his all-time favorite player in Purple.
"Really just his big sack celebration," Waletzko said. "But I watched all the games."