Yesterday was practice #9 & #10 for the Gopher’s, and due to the summer semester ending on Friday, it was the first two-a-day for the team this fall. It was also the 4th and last practice open to the public; as a nice treat it was a scrimmage and held at TCF stadium. About 3,000 fans or so attended; in my opinion a pretty good turnout. What this was not was the spring game; which some (but not most) fans seemed not to understand; it in truth was a practice to get ready for the season. As a result, you did not enter the stadium through a normal gate, you entered via the Land of Lakes tunnel (exits right next to where the "Pride of Minnesota" sits), which I thought was kind of cool, emerging from the dark onto the field itself. At that point, you had a choice, you could go up into about 5 sections of seats or walk over to the far (visitor) sidelines; I chose the seats so I could get a better overall view.
The first thing I notice is that Coach Kill is a sneaky bastard – he started practice early! Damn him! Just kidding of course, I tend to praise him. The second thing I noticed was a lack of Gray. No, not our former QB. What I’m saying was a noticed a youth movement; no I’m not saying we have a young team (but we do). In actual fact I saw a lack of gray hairs and many young faces in the crowd. I don’t think that our long-term fans have stopped showing up, just that they have been joined by young families with kids as well as 20/30 somethings who are starting to believe.
Okay, now that I have made you suffer through two paragraphs of nonsense, I’ll break down the practice. The bullets below will be somewhat…erratic…and reflect only what I saw (or at least think I saw). So you don’t have a bad day, I will start with the bad news.
- At least 4 high snaps, but the two that the QBs couldn't bring down where neatly recovered by the same QB on the run (#4 Donovahn Jones & #7 Mitch Leidner).
- At least 7 penalties, but mostly by the backups and mostly in the "second half".
- At least two interceptions, but one was by #9 Phillip Nelson on what was basically a Hail Mary, and the other was by #4 Donovahn Jones (who actually looked pretty good) under pressure, Kill came over to him and gave him a slap on the butt after that play after a quick and quite word.
- Several players out with injuries (but that was just preventative, not a big deal).
- #31 Cole Banham looked good running the ball on several plays, but then bobbled the handoff on one play and fumbled the next.
Now to good news.
- The first team offense was able to move the ball against the first team defense, but that’s not to say they ran over the defense.
- #9 Phillip Nelson had some nice precise passes and moved the offense in workman like fashion.
- The D did get some pressure, especially #55 Theiren Cockran taking advantage of the double-teams on #99 Ra’Shade Hageman.
- On the last play of the first drive (that I saw), #9 Nelson had a nice short pass on the outside to #1 KJ Maye who was wide open; however but a CB (not sure who) closed with great speed and made a hard hit that almost prevented the touchdown.
- For WR on the first team, I saw #1 Maye, #14 Isaac Fruechte, & # 18 Derrick Engel, with #17 Logan Hutton being the forth WR when needed (#16 Jamel Harbinson wasn't suited up).
- I don’t recall seeing #20 Donnell Kirkwood anywhere on the field, but #35 Rodrick Williams Jr. ran hard (but no big runs that I recall).
- One of the fullbacks, #30 Mike Henry, got thrown to multiples times out of the TE position (on some he started at fullback and then went in motion)
- Speaking of motion, no evidence to support this, but at least on the first team I saw a lot of more motion before the snap than I recall seeing the last two years.
- For the first team defense, #9 James Manuel, #57 Aaron Hill, and ……someone else where the linebackers.
- Early with the second unit guys out there, #56 Nick Rallis got a great jump and tipped pass by #7 Mitch Leidner (you could hear it in the stands) but #84 Victor Keise made an athletic catch…too bad really as it was for a loss.
- #7 Mitch Leidner again, man that kid can run, but he won’t give the pass as much of a chance as Nelson. Leidner does have the better long ball.
- #84 Victor Keise had several nice plays
- #39 Nate Wozniak really pumps his legs after defenders make contact and looked hard to take down. He dropped one pass in the middle and looked quite angry at himself.
- Staying with legs, #32 Berkley Edwards legs are a blur, the kid is fast, and bounced off some tackles.
- On this first play (I think) #32 had a 70 yard TD run in which he neatly avoided a shoelace tackle early on and then went mostly untouched (with some good downfield blocking)
- At QB, #5 Chris Steveler had a 45-yard run that would have been a 65-yard TD if not for the rules. Overall he looked like he was getting the hand of it.
- #11 Antonio Johnson had a good tackle but afterwards dropped any easy interception (meaning his hands where on it but he did have to jump for it).
- #4 Donovan Jones did look better than I expected at QB but was later lined up as a WR with both #7 Mitch Leidner and #15 Conor Rhoda throwing multiple passes his way; my theory is they want him to make it at WR so they don’t have to compete for QB playing time. He looked promising.
- On a side note, while lined up at WR, Jones still had the Gold QB jersey on, does that mean he could be tackled? Talk about an unfair advantage!
- What’s that? You want more info on #4 at WR, ok, you got it! On somewhat long pass (by #7 I think), Jones was pulled down to the ground in interference by #22 Jeremy Baltazar (who had multiple penalties I think). The next play, Jones caught the pass (in some traffic) but then fumbled when he was tackled (but he recovered it). Later he made a catch on a pass from #15 but landed out of bounds. Still, he is one to watch both as a QB or a WR.
And then…….that was it, but not quite. After Kill spoke to the players, fans were allowed back on the field with kids playing around (FYI, the field at TCF feels harder to me than the one at the practice facility), players talking to friends, family, and just the average fans. From what I saw the players looked happy and were approachable. Kill is just making the program a good product, all around.
That’s all folks, hope you enjoyed it or better yet made it out yourself. I know KFAN was broadcasting live so maybe there is a podcast of it out there. If you saw things differently than I did let me know in the comments.