Every year at the Big Ten football media days each school sends their coach and three players to answer every question under the sun (and probably the moon). Mr. Rittenberg has the list of players who will be attending Big Ten media days for each school, and the three for Minnesota might surprise you- because it surprised me. Ok well MarQueis Gray is no surprise whatsoever. Other than Jerry Kill he's quickly becoming the face of the renaissance of Gopher football, so he absolutely should be there and we're hitching our hopes for the offense to Q. The biggest shock would be if he was NOT there.
Second guy is Duane Bennett, which is somewhat surprising to me. I mean yes, with the departure of Deleon Eskridge, he's now the guy most likely to start at running back against USC. However, because of his injury history, and a pretty good stable of young running backs, there's zero guarantees he finishes the year as a starting tailback. Yet Jerry Kill selected him to represent Minnesota. He's senior and seems like a good kid, so fine.
The third guy is...Mike Rallis? Look, I like Mike Rallis. He works his tail off and has been very productive when given playing time, but if you were picking three players to represent Minnesota at the B1G media days, would Mike be one of your top 3? Top 5? Top 10? Again, good character guy who works hard and plays hard, but he's not the best linebacker on this team. Or second best. Or third. Does this mean Rallis is starting? Was DC Tracy Claeys serious coming out of spring ball when he said the team's two best linebackers- Florida transfer Brendan Beal and 2010's best defender Gary Tinsley- would both play middle linebacker? Remember, Claeys runs a mean 4-3 but with only ONE starting middle linebacker.
With Beal eligible for this season, I thought for sure- and I'm pretty sure I was far from alone on this one- that the 250 pound Beal would start in the middle, pushing Tinsley to one outside spot, and Rallis, Keanon Cooper, Spencer Reeves and everybody else would compete for the other outside backer position.
Well apparently I'm wrong. Mike Rallis is a solid Big Ten starter, and I expect him to play well, but I'm just not sure he has the upside of Beal, Tinsley or Cooper. Having him start isn't a major issue (compared to, say, the secondary? 2nd receiver? o-line depth? pass rush? Did I mention the secondary?), but I'd still like to see our three best 'backers on the field and I'm just not sure Rallis is one of them. Again, we have so much depth at linebacker, I'm sure there'll be a lot of subs, but still.
I also could be making something out of nothing (I know, I know- first time I've ever done that, right?), and considering it's July and we have nothing to talk about...this could mean absolutely nothing. Kill might just really like Rallis as a player and person and wants a guy with that kind of character representing the school. Ditto Duane. Maybe it means nothing about the starting status of either guy or others at their positions, but it has me wondering- if you could pick three guys to represent the Gophers, would these be the three that you choose?
I would hope everybody would take Q as one, but what about the other two? Again, no offense to Duane or Mike Rallis, but some suggestions (you shouldn't need anymore names than the first two guys listed):
Da'Jon McKnight, WR, Sr
Minnesota's best player- and the most underrated player in the Big Ten- should be there. He's a senior, he's a great story of a kid who was under-recruited (is that a word? Or phrase? Let's pretend it is) and has developed incredibly well, seems like a good character guy who hasn't been in any off-field trouble and did I mention he's Minnesota's best player? I did? Just not sure why he's not an automatic second choice after Q.
Troy Stoudermire, CB/KR/PR, Sr
He'll be either 1st or 2nd preseason B1G as a kick returner, he's a senior, and after spring camp (and the last few games of last season) he looks like he's going to be a force at corner. Did Coach Kill worry about him answering questions about almost transferring midway through last year? Wouldn't it make for a good story that he DID consider transferring when he was switched from corner to wideout but didn't? And instead worked his tail off and is now one of our best DB's? Troy, Da'Jon, and Q would be my three choices, but if you want more...
Kim Royston, S, Sr
He should be a defensive captain and IF he's 100% like he and the coaching staff have been telling us, then he's going to be a damn good player this year. Maybe he's sick of answering questions about his leg or leaving Wisconsin?
Eric Lair, TE, Sr
Another good senior who could be in for a big year. Like Da'Jon he's criminally underrated right now and IS one of the two or three best TE's in the Big Ten.
Gary Tinsley, LB, Sr
Clearly not here because right now he's not considered a starter, but I would say entering the fall he's one of our three best defenders, and maybe still the best. He was dinged up in the spring which is why his starting status is up in the air, but it shouldn't be. Ok so not much of a case for Gary representing the U at the media days, but still had to mention him.
As you can see, some pretty good senior leadership for the Gophers in 2011 (and that doesn't even include the trio of o-linemen of Chris Bunders, Ryan Wynn and Ryan Orton as well as some of the d-linemen). Maybe it doesn't matter who represents the Gophers at Big Ten media days, and I'm sure Rallis and Bennett will be excellent representatives, but I can't believe McKnight wasn't invited. Or Stoudermire. Or Lair or Royston. What say you? If you could choose two players to represent the Gophers at B1G media days along with Coach Kill and Q, who would they be?