Jerry Kill couldn't have asked for a better morning for a Saturday scrimmage, the final practice open to the public before the season begins September 3rd at USC.
A QUARTERBACK CONDUNDRUM?
Every report from Tuesday's scrimmage said starting quarterback MarQueis Gray did not play well. I expect any and everyone who was in attendance today to say the same thing. If I had to use one word to describe Gray, it would be "uncomfortable", which is also a good description of how I felt watching him trying to run the first team offense. More bobbled snaps with today's 1st team center Zach Mottla (Ryan Wynn will start against USC but was held out today), happy feet in the pocket, and some bad throws or no throws on far too many plays. Gray looks fine either handing off or keeping it himself and going. That otherworldly athleticism for a man of his size looks great running through a defense. But at times he just looks lost when he has to throw. It KILLS me to say this, considering how harsh I was on Adam Weber and the previous coaching staff, but I'll admit it here and now: if this is what Gray looked like trying to play QB with the former staff, then I can see how Weber went unchallenged as the starter.
Q just doesn't look comfortable yet on a straight drop and throw. The feet dance, he gets time, but was often times either making a poor throw or none at all, as he would pull it down and run for daylight. I hope this was just two bad practices and he looks comfortable against USC. Two weeks from today- right now actually- the Gophers have to march into Southern California to play the Trojans, and Gray needs to be better. Much better.
Passing for the second team was a different story. Max Shortell and Tom Parish were both cool, calm, and collected when given their turn with the 2's (both rotated series equally from what I could tell). They both looked like they had been running that offense for years. There were mistakes, sure, but the passes were crisp and the decisions generally good.
I said last week I did not understand why Jerry Kill wouldn't redshirt Shortell if he wasn't going to start, but after seeing him today I totally get it: he might be the best quarterback on campus as an 18 year old kid. Shortell LOOKED like a college quarterback, and was slinging the ball into tight spaces and on target. He wasn't perfect and made some mistakes too, but he did not look like a true freshman. He had one throw down the near sideline to Victor Keise that he dropped over the corner and in front of the oncoming safety right into Keise's hands. I mean a PERFECT throw (sure, Keise dropped it, but the throw? Wow!).
Gray should start and hopefully get his s*** figured out in the next two weeks of practice, but Shortell looked like the best QB today, and Parish #2.
OTHER STUFF ON OFFENSE...
- No Donnell Kirkwood today because of a hamstring injury, but there was a pretty clear top three order at running back: Duane Bennett started, but freshmen David Cobb and Lamonte Edwards may have had more carries. Cobb played very well again today, with another long TD run, whereas Edwards looked solid as well, but not as good as Cobb.
- That's not to say Cobb had a perfect morning, however. He made a bad block attempt on a goalline play, and Jerry Kill ripped him a new one. They ran the play again, Cobb got it wrong again and Kill sent the ENTIRE offense off the field, and said a few things to Cobb that I can't repeat here.
- Cobb wasn't the only guy he chewed out though. Far from it, as he tore into plenty of guys. He really is a no-nonsense "we're going to do this right or you're going to hear about it" kind of coach. A wee bit different from the last coach we had. My love for Jerry Kill knows no bounds.
- No Eric Lair either, and the tight ends that played didn't stand out much in the passing game.
- The wide receivers were constantly rotating, and other than McKnight I still can't say we have a starter decided on the opposite side. Ge'Shun Harris, Brandon Green, Victor Keise and even
Xzavian Brandon true freshman Devin Crawford-Tufts all got plenty of reps at both outside receiver spots. Marcus Jones and Malcolm Moulton both looked very good running out of the slot, and both had a couple of nice plays that made defenders miss. Jones is also returning punts, so good to know he's going to have a lot of opportunities to show off his skills.
- The starting secondary looks set, as for the entire first half of scrimmage the "1's" were Troy Stoudermire and Brock Vereen at corner and Kim Royston and Shady Salamon at safety. Royston looked pretty good and was flying around out there which is great to see. Barring any setbacks with his leg, I think that's your starting secondary against USC.
- One guy I did not see in the secondary was Michael Carter. At first I thought maybe he was hurt and they were holding him out of the scrimmage, but there stood #6 in the white jersey, idling on the sidelines.
- A LOT of rotating in the front seven. Lots of it. Mike Rallis didn't participate today, so the starting backers were Cooper, Tinsley and Spencer Reeves, but Brendan Beal saw plenty of action, and Claeys played Beal and Tinsley together quite a bit. There's a lot of talent at linebacker, and Claeys was not shy to get as many guys as possible some reps.
- Up front, DJ Wilhite, Jacobs, and Kirksey were definite starters, and it looks like redshirt frosh Ben Perry may have grabbed himself a starting job. Maybe. Matt Garin also got time with the 1's as did Rashede Hageman at DT (who is now listed at over 300 pounds). Because of the rotating though, starting might not matter as much since Claeys looked comfortable with his depth chart, giving plenty of the big fellas up front some run.
- Coach Kill spent a lot of time on the punt kick and coverage units during the middle of practice. Some good kicks, some bad, but overall it shows how important that part of the game is for Kill. You can win and lose games because of special teams, and Coach is going to do his best to make sure they don't lose any.