On Saturday the Golden Gopher football program did something it had never done under Jerry Kill: they held a spring scrimmage. This didn't happen last spring due to a lack depth at several positions.
The pre-scrimmage festivities included this video with the Gophers donning some new Nike gear...
The video really jacked up the dudes because several players began jawing at each other across the field. Unfortunately the players taunting each other was one of the more exciting things that happened on this rainy spring Saturday.
Okay, that's not quite fair. In reality there were a number of things that were positives for the Gophers, although it was sometimes difficult to see them through some of the more glaring mistakes.
Phillip Nelson started out at QB for the Gold squad and reeled off a nice first down run on his first play. He showed good speed and vision on the play and throughout the scrimmage when he was in. Nelson did not complete a single pass in the scrimmage but his first pass attempt showed pretty good touch and was unfortunately dropped by TE Alex Bisch and probably should have been caught.
Mitch Leidner also got a lot of work at QB for the Gold team and showed a similar athletic ability to Nelson. Leidner, like Nelson, did not complete a pass during the scrimmage and both showed a tendency to throw short, which is not at all surprising for two kids who would normally be focused on completing their senior year in high school.
MarQueis Gray showed much improved touch on his first pass over the middle to TE John Rabe, but Rabe wasn't able to come down with it despite the ball hitting both of his hands. (Sensing a trend yet?)
Having said that, Gray definitely embodied one of the positives on the day. His passing touch and confidence compared to this time last season is startling. He had several nice passes, but overall the receivers weren't doing him any favors with a number of dropped balls. You can really tell that he's got a year of experience under his belt, and that he's really benefited from having the same group of coaches for two seasons in a row.
Max Shortell also got a good number of snaps and he looks to have improved in confidence and touch as well. You really can't say enough about how much having the same set of coaches two years in a row has done for this team, and QB's 1 & 2 show that perhaps the most.
From a defensive perspective, the D secondary has a chance to be a real bright spot for the Gophers. Jeremy Baltazar, a JUCO transfer, had a nice day. He shows solid cover skills and tackling. Martez Shabazz, another JUCO transfer will be a great addition. Michael Carter also looks like he may finally be ready to make an impact as he had a couple of nice pass break-ups. And of course, having Troy Stoudermire being back is huge. His experience and leadership will be a big boost to the Gopher D.
Another bright spot on Defense: Ra'Shede Hageman. Hageman showed a great motor, good speed, and of course unteachable size. We've been saying it for what seems like years, but Hageman really has a chance to make an impact this fall.
One thing that was interesting was who got carries at RB. JUCO transfer James Gillum had just one carry as far as I remember, Donnell Kirkwood had perhaps a handful, and Rachel Banham's brother Cole had eight. The bulk of the carries went to JoJuan Harper, a freshman from Columbia Heights. Harper ended up with 44 yards on the ground, but showed a tendency to be very careless with the football.
Overall it wasn't a flashy day. The defense seemed to play well, but that may well have been offset if the Gopher receivers would have done a better job of hauling in some passes. There were glimpses of good things from the QB's, the d-secondary, and the offensive line, particularly the interior.
If the Gophers are going to become the bowl team that they aspire to be this fall, on the offensive side, we will need to see continued touch and confidence from Gray, WR's & TE's who become more competent catching the ball, a RB who emerges from the pack as the go-to guy, and an offensive line that continues to improve.
On the defensive side of the ball the LB group was depleted during the spring game (Rallis, Cooper & Beal were all on the sideline), but that should prove to be a solid group. The d-line will need to figure out new ways to get to the QB and into the backfield, and the d-secondary will have to continue to show great speed and tackling ability.