Identifying "My Guys" is slowly becoming a must-have-post for respectable bloggers. I love interesting posts that someone else came up with as it requires less thought on my part. What defines "My Guys" you ask? Well, officially they are a handful of players you love who you expect to have great, high-impact seasons but who aren't receiving sufficient hype. Guys like Adam Weber and Eric Decker are clearly off limits.
With Tim Brewster as our coach and on the Gophersports.com football camp blog just about everyone on the roster is receiving sufficient hype. The incoming class of freshmen and JUCOs has been talked about more than any other recruiting class in the team's history so that makes this endeavor rather a bit harder.
But adversity such as this has never scared me off and I will meet this challenge head on. PJS and I have each decided upon "our guys" to be impact players this season.
GN Guy #1 - Kyle Theret
There will be 3 new starters in the 4-man defensive backfield. Theret is likely the lone returning starter and for good reason. Brock and Simmons are incoming JUCOs expected to make a significant impact and reports keep coming in that Marcus Sherels' move from WR to CB is going to be a good one. But nobody is talking about Theret.
In 2007 the pass defense was thoroughly abused and there were no bright spots to speak of. But quietly, Kyle Theret showed improvement and ended up being a solid player who was one of the few who was willing to tackle. I expect continued improvement and will the a pleasant surprise in the 2008 backfield.
"I haven't been home since May," he said. "I've been up here busting my butt trying to get in the best shape I've ever been in, work on my backpedal, just make my skills better. There is a lot more competition, but that makes everyone better. You have to be on your game every play."
I don't have outrageous expectations for Theret, but I do think he'll be the leader of an improved unit and will quickly become a fan favorite.
GN Guy #2 - Duane Bennett
Since 2002 when Mike Dunbar took over as Northwestern's offensive coordinator his offense has produced a 1,200 yard rusher in every season until his arrival in Minnesota. And outside of 2006
when he was coaching Marshawn Lynch he has done it with 2nd tier running backs on 2nd tier teams. Apologies to LTP and Northwestern fans but Jason Wright and Noah Herron are not backs you would expect to rack up 1,200+ yards against Big Ten defenses.
But they did and I expect Bennett will assume the role of team's leading rusher and rack up 1,000+ yards this season.
PJS Guy #1 - Jack Simmons
If I were in a Big Ten fantasy football league, Jack Simmons would be my sleeper tight end pick. Simmons played very well in flashes in 2007 while battling a foot injury. He racked up 20 catches for 202 yards, good for fifth on the team. With the relative lack of experience at wide receiver, Simmons could well be a trusted target for Weber.
While the incoming wide receivers have been sufficiently hyped as an upgrade to last year's corps, the tight end position has been largely ignored by the punditry. If the wide receivers live up to the hype, it should create more openings for Simmons.
Also consider that the Gophers' offensive line is in decidedly inexperienced (more coming on the O-line next week). As Weber drops back to throw the vast majority of the time, he could often be forced to check down. Combine that with the fact that it's Simmons and Decker who have the most experience as pass catchers on the team, and that's why Simmons is "my guy" to surpass expectations in 2008.
PJS Guy #2 - Willie VanDeSteeg
Yes, he's a name you know. But if the hype surrounding him largely disappeared last season, as he battled a wrist injury throughout a disappointing junior campaign. Now healthy, and in his senior season on an athletically-charged defense, VanDeSteeg could well return to the impact player we got to know in 2006.
During Glen Mason's last season, VanDeSteeg racked up 10 sacks, a school record for a sophomore, and earned Big Ten All Second Team honors. Last year? Not so much. He totalled one sack and 20 solo tackles. Consider that he made 14.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2006, and it's easy to see that the Gophers lost a great deal of production from their go-to defensive lineman.
The one area that perhaps could hold VanDeSteeg back is the fact that Ted Roof will be the fourth defensive coordinator he's played under. But if VanDeSteeg is the senior leader the Gophers make him out to be, that should be less of a challenge than playing through a busted wrist.
Now, who are your guys?