As the 2014 version of Spring Football Practice comes to an end, the annual Spring Game will take place at 2:30 Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. The gates open to the public at 12:30, and the festivities will get started with the 2nd annual Alumni game starting at 1:00 PM. Some of the players you can expect to see play tomorrow are Ron Johnson, Tyrone Carter, Duane Bennett, and Simoni Lawrence amongst others. The full rosters are listed here. Members of both teams will sign autographs on the west plaza after the game.
The current Gopher roster will begin warmups at 2:00 and the game will begin at 2:30. After the game, there will be a 30 minute autograph session for the current players and coaches on the TCF field. The game will be broadcast live on KFAN 100.3 with the normal team of Mike Grimm, Darrell Thompson and Justin Gaard on the call. For those who are not in the area, the game will also be broadcast on BTN at 5:30 on Sunday with former Gopher radio voice Dave Lee on the play-by-play, and our own Gopher Nation's favorite former quarterback Adam Weber doing color. Justin Conzemius will be the sideline reporter.
So that's how you can either see or listen to the game, but what are some specific things to be on the lookout for? Here's a few:
Mitch is the Man!
This will be the first Spring Game with Mitch Leidner as the clear #1 quarterback for the Gophers. By all accounts he has looked good this spring working on his timing and placement of pass routes. He will be highly scrutinized both now, and as fall camp begins in August as its his team now. No splitting time with Phillip Nelson. Moose is on his own.
As for the rest of the quarterbacks, Chris Streveler and Connor Rhoda have both taken second team snaps this spring. The competition is open, and most likely will not be decided until fall to determine who will need to be ready for those inevitable moments where Leidner gets shaken up for a few plays. It is a young group as Streveler and Rhoda are both redshirt freshmen to go along with redshirt sophomore Leidner. It will also be many Gopher fan's first look at incoming freshman Dimonic Rhoden-McKinzy who enrolled early in January to be able to practice this spring. The plan is for him to be an obvious redshirt next season...but weirder things have happened.
Running Back Cup Overfloweth
If one thing has been seen this spring, it is that the Gophers will have five running backs on the roster who most likely will be able to start next season in the backfield. David Cobb returns for his senior season after an outstanding junior tilt where he took control of the starting spot and would not relinquish it. Also entering his senior season will be Donnell Kirkwood who suffered several injuries after starting the season as the #1 running back. He has looked good this spring and will try and get back into the mix. Roderick Williams enters his junior season trying to regain some of the magic he had at the end of his freshman year. He also was injured a portion of last season and didn't get as many reps as he would have liked.
As for the players we have yet to see on the field, Berkley Edwards has to be the most anticipated. Edwards was hyped up last fall before spraining an ankle in practice and being redshirted. He has breakaway speed, and Gopher fans would love to see him break one Saturday. The fifth running back of course is incoming freshman Jeff Jones. Jones still needs to qualify to be eligible next fall, and obviously won;t be on the field Saturday, but is highly anticipated.
Tight End U?
With Maxx Williams hampered by the knee injury he suffered near the end of the Texas Bowl, he has not practiced much this spring. In fact he has been shut down, but Kill has said he will be ready to go by August 1. in his absence, two players have really stood out so far this spring in Duke Anyanwu and Nate Wozniak. Anyanwu has been hampered by injuries his first two seasons, but the redshirt sophomore has shown off his skills this spring. Wozniak was redshirted last season, but has impressed the coaching staff making several impressive catches with his 6'9" frame. Can you say Red Zone target?
Who Will Be Our LInebackers?
The Gophers will have a few new linebacker spots this season as both Aaron Hill and James Manuel have graduated and moved on. The Gophers already have suffered one blow as Juco Sophomore Cody Poock who was starting in the middle for the Gophers suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2014 season. Damien Wilson who played quite a bit last season will be called on, as will De'Vondre Campbell. Jack Wilson who started the season alternating with Wilson before he took over wil lbe asked to play a larger role this season, as will redshirt freshman De'Niro Laster. Laster is highly anticipated and should help the defense immediately. Nick Rallis will also be expected to play a larger role in his redshirt sophomore season.
We got our Punter...but a Kicker??
Peter Mortell is coming off of a great year for the Gophers, and there is no doubt the redshirt junior will play a large role next season after having being awarded a scholarship by Jerry Kill this winter. The starting kicker in August is a bigger question. Like maybe literally bigger. it appears the job will come down to one of two redshirt freshmen in 2013's highly recruited kicker Ryan Santoso takes on walk-on Andrew Harte. Both players have made some impressive kicks this spring, and will have another chance to impress on Saturday. Santoso may have the stronger leg, but reining in his accuracy will be key for him to win the job. Harte seems to be more consistent, but needs to work on stretching out his distance. No decisions will be made until the first game, if by then, but it should be fun to see both kickers tomorrow.
This is just a few topics, as obviously there is the competition to replace Ra'Shede Hageman on the defensive line, the rise of Jonah Pirsig on the right side of the offensive line, and the increasing reps for Donovan Jones and Drew Wolitarsky at the wide receiver spot. Nothing will be determined Saturday, but it will be another brick in the wall that will lead to a summer of workouts getting ready to start the 2014 season in the fall.
So what are you the most excited to see? What do you feel you need to see to feel more comfortable? Tell us in the comments below.