We asked a bunch of questions about this Gopher football team entering the spring (That's just how we are, inquisitive fellows, the lot of us). After a full week of practice and a 45 min scrimmage to wrap up Saturday's events at TCF Bank Stadium, are we any closer to finding answers? Here were a few asked, a few some other people asked, and probably a few we meant to ask but forgot:
HOW WILL MARQUEIS GRAY HANDLE BEING THE #1 QUARTERBACK?
ANSWER: Just fine, thank you.
Yes, yes, yes Jerry Kill reminded us often that MarQueis was NOT the starter heading into camp, and he'd have to fight for a job like everyone else. And after more than a week of practices Kill STLL hasn't named him the starter...but I think it's safe to say this is MarQueis' job, and this is his team. He's embraced the leadership role on this team as soon as the new coaching staff arrived, saying the promises Brewster made to him about being the starting QB wouldn't be kept by the new coaches, and that if he wanted to start at QB he'd have to earn it. Done and done. He hasn't been perfect, but the coaches seem happy with how well he's picking up the new offense, and how hard he's working. Barring injury, he'll be the guy behind center Sept 3 at USC, and for the first time in four years I can say I'm excited about our starting quarterback.
WHO WILL BE THE #2 QB?
ANSWER: A candidate emerges.
Tom Parish has been getting a lot of buzz after Saturday's scrimmage, and practice yesterday. Both coach Kill and Limegrover have gone out of their way to praise Parish both for his play, and for how quickly he's absorbing the playbook. He was also compared favorably to Adam Weber, so GN might have himself a new favorite player. I think Parish will leave spring as the #2 guy, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the guy in the fall, as freshman Max Shortell will be on campus by this summer and able to compete. The coaches seemed to LOVE Shortell (I mean, really love him. Like as much as I love bacon. Which is a lot), and didn't seem at all worried about him not redshirting even if he won't start. Still, Limegrover is on record saying how important the mental aspects of the offense are, and if Parish is doing really well with that AND making plays so far? It'll be an upset if he's not the guy. Where does that leave Moses Alipate? That's a quandry for another day.
WHO WILL BE THE #2 WIDE RECEIVER?
He might not start on the outside opposite Da'jon, but thus far the guy getting the most attention is we didn't even name when we posed this question a few weeks ago: true freshman Marcus Jones. His speed has been impressive for those in attendance for spring practices, and Kill has shown zero concern about his lack of experience. The kid is explosive and can make plays, and the Gophers obviously need as much of that as they can get, even if it has to come from a true freshman. He'll likely end up in the slot with his size (or lack thereof at 5'8 and just a buck-seventy) but could be a real weapon for this offense.
As for the other receiver out wide opposite Da'jon...? Inconclusive, at best. Brandon Green and Victor Keise have been banged up so they haven't practiced much, and after much hype and impressive conditioning workouts, there's been little said about juco transfer Ge'Shun Harris. AJ Barker has been the most consistent thus far, but I have a feeling this one won't be decided in the spring, and might not be until we're well into the season.
More questions after the jump...
COULD TOMMY OLSON START AS A FRESHMAN?
ANSWER: It's looking less and less likely.
It's possible, but I'm doubting it more and more. Along with MarQueis at QB and Da'Jon at wideout, another position that's been very consistent in their first teamers thus far has been the offensive line: Ed Olson and Jimmy Gjere at tackle, Chris Bunders and Ryan Orton at guard, and Ryan Wynn at center. That seems to be the five Kill is most comfortable with and barring disaster that'll be the group that leaves spring camp as starters. Could Olson, the four star offensive line prospect from STA, unseat any of them? Certainly possible, as Kill has shown with Marcus Jones that he's not afraid to let true freshman play if they're ready. Still, I think the one and only guy who should be worried is Orton, as the duo of 6'7, 300+ pounders Olson and Gjere are locks to start at tackle, and Bunders and his 28 career starts will be at guard. Wynn might not be the world's most talented or physical center, but from everything we've seen and read he's developed a good repoire with Q, and the center/QB exchange is important in any offense, especially a new one that everyone is learning. I just don't see Olson being able to come in for a couple of weeks in the summer before the season starts and learn the offense better and develop a better repoire with Q than Wynn already has. But could Tommy Olson beat out Orton? We shall see.
THE OTHER STARTER AT OLB WILL BE...?
ANSWER: None yet.
Before spring ball I took the uneducated guess of saying Brendan Beal starts in the middle (and yes, I'm aware Ryan Grant got some first team snaps in the middle yesterday. No way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks does anyone but Beal start at MLB against USC), pushing the Gophers' most productive linebacker from 2010, Gary Tinsley, to the outside, leaving at least four guys in a heated battle for the last position. I'm not changing my tune on that one. Beal's been good so far and Tinsley has been hurt, but he shouldn't lose a starting spot over it. It's actually only helped the other guys as it has given even more opportunities for reps for the rest of them. We've seen a LOT about Keanon Cooper's playmaking ability, so he seems to be the early leader, but don't count out Mike Rallis- or like four other guys.
IS THE SECONDARY GIVING US REASONS NOT TO WORRY?
Answer: So far, just two.
Kim Royston has been limited in practice, as was the plan. Despite the gruesome leg injury that cost him all of 2010, I had zero worries about Royson's production for 2011. He proved in 2009 he's a quality Big Ten starting safety, and could even push for all-conference honors if the Gophers have a good year. The reasons for worry were everywhere else. Corners? Other safety? Depth? Still a lot of unanswered questions (Michael Carter? Hello?), but corner Troy Stoudermire might be the only guy working harder than Q to prove he should start, as he's been nothing short of impressive in the spring thus far. We guessed Troy would be one of the starting corners heading into spring, but he's left no doubt he's going to be the #1 guy, and could be a real difference maker in the secondary in 2011. What impresses me more than his play has been his attitude. This was the same guy who almost left the team last year after being moved from receiver to corner, and we wondered whether Troy would be anything more than a return specialist. Well he's answered that statement pretty emphatically, and I'm excited to see what he can do this fall.
However, the rest of the secondary remains a gigantic question mark. Second and nickel corner? Safety? Depth? Still have no real confidence in any of those things right now, but hopefully that changes in the next few weeks of practice.