So there's been a couple two-three things going on with Gophers athletics lately. Some winning, some losing, and something about a coach getting canned? Maybe you heard about it. With all of this going on, we here at TDG didn't want you to forget that spring football begins today with the first of 14 practices before the spring game Saturday, April 27 at TCF Bank Stadium. The full practice schedule is here, and all of it is open to the public, beginning with today's session at 330pm at the Gibson-Nagurksi complex.
Kill gave a press conference yesterday, and new Strib beat writer Joe Christensen had some notes from the presser, and covers a few of the questions facing the Gophers as they head into spring. Among the highlights were Kill saying-to noone's surprise- that Philip Nelson begins the spring as the first-team QB. The sophomore-to-be had a solid start to his career by not totally embarassing himself on the road at Wisconsin and then followed that up by embarassing Purdue in a big win. After that...yeah let's chalk up the Gophers' offensive ineptitude the rest of the regular season to an offensive line in shambles, the loss of his best, and only consistent receiver to injury, and a complete and total lack of Maryland-I. For the bowl game, the line got healthy, the Maryland I was instituted, and the offense got better in a hurry. Kill didn't address the Maryland-I specifically in the press conference, likely so as not to make the journalists in attendance swoon and faint from the mere mention of the greatest offensive set ever devised by man. However, I know OC Matt Limegrover has commented on it during the offseason, and said we haven't seen the last of the Maryland-I. I'm guessing they won't run it full-time just because that would be totally unfair to the rest of college football and we don't want too much success here too fast. It would go to our heads, every last one of us. But I'm very interested to see how Nelson responds to his first spring as "The Man", especially when there's going to be very young, but potentially very capable, competition for him in camp in redshirt frosh Mitch Leidner, as well as early-enrollee Chris Streveler. And coming this summer will be uber-athlete Donovahn Jones from Georgia, who Kill and Co. pried from the clutches of Mizzou and the SEC because they promised him the chance to compete at QB. So yeah, the Gophers definitely have some options behind their starter.
The quarterbacks always grab the headline, but for me and many Gopher fans, the big question is what happens at corner in 2013? Senior Michael Carter was a revelation at the position, and fellow classmate Troy Stoudermire helped give stability and confidence to a position that quite frankly looked to be a total cluster**** heading into last year. As departing seniors, neither will return for 2013, which opens up not only starting spots, but what could potentially be some gaping holes on the depth chart. Two senior corners, led by the man in the picture up top in Martez Shabazz, and Jeremy Baltazar, were JUCO transfers a year ago who will be counted on for playing time this season. If the current roster is correct, than a third JUCO transfer from a year ago, Briean Boddy, took a redshirt last season, and will only be a junior this year which should help with complete turnover at the position again next year. Kill also announced that two players are switching positions to corner in Derrick Wells, who moves from safety where he was excellent, and slot back Marcus Jones, who played corner in high school. Wells would seem to be the answer at boundry corner, although Christensen quotes Kill as saying Wells will play "some corner" but also some safety, so it may be just a trial run. Jones is a VERY intruiging athlete, and while he lacks size at barely 5'8 and barely 170 pounds, he's a great athlete who has the potential to make an impact. He's just two seasons removed from high school ball where he last played defense, so we'll see how steep the learning curve is this spring.
There are plenty of other questions and things to watch for this football team over the next month, but we'll finish for today with the linebacker position. Mike Rallis at MLB and Keanon Cooper at OLB both started the past two-plus seasons, and were leaders on the field and in the locker room. While their production seemed to suffer last season, it's still far from automatic that Minnesota can just plug two new guys in and get the same or better production. Gone also is former high school All-American and Florida Gator transfer Brendan Beal, whose knees just unfortunately would not cooperate enough to get him on the field. A very bright young man who will get a degree from the Carlson School of Management I'm sure will be successful in whatever he does, but it's too bad we never got to see him play in Maroon and Gold. As it stands, the Gophers have plenty of candidates ready to compete for some starting positions, and Kill announced that senior Aaron Hill, who might have been the team's best LB a season ago, is staying outside and should be a lock to start at one outside spot. That leaves JUCO transfer Damien Wilson to compete with redshirt frosh Jack Lynn (a three star prospect out of Illinois and the Gophers' "Defensive Work Team Player of the Year" in 2012) among others to replace Rallis in the middle.
We'll have plenty more over the next month on Gopher football, and we highly encourage everyone to get to at least one open practice if they can. While it might not quite feel like spring just yet, rejoice in the fact that spring football is finally here.