When Golden Gopher head football coach Jerry Kill took to his podium yesterday afternoon, he spoke about players getting bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room. There were references to young players stepping up, overtures of praise for the offseason his players experienced since the final ticks of the Meineke Car Care Bowl counted down to zero and a generous helping the improvement narrative.
In other words, Kill rattled off the same script told by nearly FBS football coach at the start of virtually every spring practice kick-off.
What one didn't hear from Kill or read in a transcript: chatter about lack of depth, players beginning to understand how the coaches operate or talk about how "this year is different" from the previous. This is your garden variety spring practice slate, in which fans should erase any notion of the up-to-the-minute depth chart holding any significance, emphasis will rest in teaching and learning, young players get the chance to earn reps and showcase what they can do, all without the pressure of the staff actually having to win a game that Saturday. It is a return to normalcy for Gopher football, which in the context of recent history, is a very good thing.
You see, no one is talking about the transition from Tim Brewster to the current staff any longer. There are fewer questions about how the kids currently on the roster fit in to the new schemes, since that's largely been taken care of through two full recruiting classes, JUCOs fill ins and outbound transfers of the players who didn't. Gone are the grumblings and narrative about the need for a culture change, since there's little debate over who's in charge at the Gibson-Nagurski Complex. There's also no misunderstanding what the program's identity on offense and defense are: tough, physical, hard nosed football.
With all that in mind, Kill and his staff are free to crank away at their primary task: constructing the best possible team at the University of Minnesota, and win some more football games. That he can do so without the distraction of addressing any of the extraneous storylines (not to mention having the all athletic department attention diverted to the other side of the adjoining Bierman) is a blessing for Jerry. Kill is a no-nonsense, tough minded and driven coach; a review of Jerry's coaching career suggests the programs at his command really take off once he's free to focus exclusively on football versus worrying about changing mindsets.
Are the Gophers at that point yet? Uncertain. What is certain, however: Jerry Kill is firmly established in Dinkytown, and the goal of spring practice is to build upon what the players have already learned versus trying something completely new. That in and of itself marks another important milestone in Kill's rebuilding job.
Keep all that in mind when reading the largely noise filled practice updates, vague quotes from the beat and speculation about players gaining/losing starting jobs in April. Seasoned info junkies understand there's not much red meat on the proverbial bone coming out of spring ball, and even less emanating from a glorified controlled scrimmage that concludes it. That's because coaches are free to experiment in their football laboratories during the spring without consequences of an ill-prepared strategy, play or package falling on Saturday's. They won't reveal what is truly tinkering versus part of the game plan until the fall.
So, expect a "normal" stream of spring practice news and analysis. Some players will turn heads. Others will get hyped. Walk-ons and younger players will get reps and appear capable of earning PT, only to never see the field in the fall. The defense will appear ahead of the offense during the first week, quarterbacks and receivers will have their timing thrown off, only for a role reversal by the 15th practice session. And coaches will tell you they're practicing at full intensity and speed (practice how we play!), when the reality is to get everyone through without major injury.
Again, normal stuff. Not to be celebrated or over-analyzed*, but a welcome change indeed.
* That's not to say I'm not excited that actual football-like substances are returning. I am, even if it means consuming Diet Football.