Gophers nab running back Edwards, how does he fit into 2013's plans?

Berkely Edwards, Minnesota Gophers, running back

Photo credit: Joseph Tobianski /

Jerry Kill has landed his first running back for next year's recruiting class, as Rivals's Gopher Illustrated has reported that Michigan running back Berkley Edwards has committed to the maroon and gold. What can we expect from him?

Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan Wolverine and NFL receiver Braylon, rates as a three-star prospect according to both Rivals and Scout. The experts from Rivals, ESPN and Scout have scouted Edwards to be on the high end of three stars; Edwards's scout grade of 77 ranks on the high end of ESPN's "good prospects" range.

For perspective, rare, amazing prospects rank 100-90, and 89-80 is for outstanding prospects. Issac Hayes, Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald all ranked 80 last year, while KJ Maye received a 76.

The high school senior currently measures 5-foot-9, 190 pounds and reportedly received a scholarship offer from California, among several other non-automatic qualifier schools. Iowa had been rumored to be interested in him, but apparently decided that they didn't want to seal the young man's fate in crushing knee injuries, questionable drug-related arrests and the general wrath of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. (Iowa reportedly recently pulled its offer.)

(Note: The above paragraph was edited to fix an error that left a sentence half completed. The edited portion has been changed to italics. -EM)

In talking on Twitter with GopherIllustrated's Matt O'Connell and The Daily Gopher's MV, Edwards's speed should get him on the field during his freshman season, as should the fact that the Gophers aren't exactly talent rich at the position.

Donnell Kirkwood wrapped up a productive 2012 campaign, one that admittedly overshot my meager expectations for him. But while Kirkwood's 4.26 yards per carry and 848 yards were a pleasant surprise, the play of James Gillum was a complete letdown. After totaling 14 carries in the season opener against UNLV, Gillum only had a carry in three other games, and never toted the rock more than five times when he did.

True freshman Rodrick Williams, Jr, "Nugget," was a nice surprise, too, but at 5-foot, 11-inches and 228 pounds, he's meant to run into people more than run away from them.

Enter Edwards, the speed back that can hopefully add another weapon to the Gopher offense. After watching some of his 2012 game film, the hope is that he can replicate what Chad Spann did for Kill and Co. at Northern Illinois.

Kirkwood, Williams and Gillum are not to blame for the team's offensive struggles, though. The offensive line again battled injuries last year and the passing game was awful. Nationally, the Gophers ranked 108th out of 124 teams in passing yards per game. On third down, the Gophers' quarterbacks had the third-worst completion percentage.

When teams can manhandle your patchwork offensive line -- filled with the second and third names on the depth chart – and can also all but ignore your passing game, there isn't much to suggest that your running backs are going to have a huge amount of success. If Edwards is successful running the ball in 2013, a large reason will be an offensive line receiving large contributions from upperclassmen for the first time in two years. If injuries continue to press younger linemen into duty earlier than desired, we can expect more of the same struggles up front.

While Edwards certainly shouldn't be expected to be a program changer, he certainly brings a level of speed that the Gophers backfield has lacked during the last two years. Rivals ranks him as an all-around back, one who can play on third down and catch some passes out of the backfield. An ability to catch passes hasn't figured much into the Kill-Limegrover system for running backs though, at least dating back to 2008. The highest reception total in five years for a running back in the Kill-Limegrover offense was 11, by Kyle Skarb in 2009. In 2012, Donnell Kirkwood led running backs with seven catches; in most screen plays, KJ Maye was used instead. He caught 11 passes on the year.

But again, Edwards's speed is something that the program simply hasn't had in several years and with relatively little running back depth of value currently on the roster, we should expect Edwards to figure squarely into the Gophers' plans when the team begins fall camp.

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