I decided to attend Gopher Football Practice again this morning. Today was open to the public, not just the media, so it was a bit more crowded than Saturday. However, it's also a little more fun to watch practice when there are dozens of fans there for their Gopher Football fix.
The team was in full pads for the first time this season which allowed for some 11-on-11 drills with hitting and full blocking. Here are a few of my observations, these are meant to be casual and should be taken as just a fan watching practice (because that is what it was).
Mitch Leidner was basically what we expect to see. Looks good on some plays, not as good on others. One pick that I recall when he forced a throw deep that hit the safety in stride. Also not exactly crisp or throwing clean balls time after time. After seeing two practices I believe that the Mitch we know is the Mitch we will see again this year. Not worse, not going to be any quarterback controversy, but I also don't think we will see any marked improvement. Don't you love when a practice review starts off so negative? It is early, it is just practice and the combination of Mitch's experience and confidence may still make him a better quarterback on the field. But I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe he has improved enough as a passer to beat a Big Ten opponent with his arm. His deep ball is better than his short ball and he hit on a couple really nice balls in 1-on-1 drills between receivers and d-backs. All is not lost and he'll be fine, just not going to get excited about anything under center at this point.
Streveler is similar. I would say his passing is better than a year ago, but his biggest asset is his speed. If he gets pressed into action it will be a lot of running like the San Jose State game? The quarterback who continues to impress me is Demry Croft. In NO WAY do I think he should be playing/starting over Leidner. He is a true freshman, things are not at game-speed and he is often going up against the 2s and 3s of the defense. But he has great size, is very athletic and consistently throws a really good ball. He is accurate and throws a tight spiral. He looks the part and I look forward to his career. As he grows and if injuries happen, it may become an interesting situation. Besides a couple nice deep balls in the 1-on-1s, Croft had my favorite pass connection of the day when Hunter Register was crossing, Croft lead him high and hit him right in the middle of three-defensive backs. It was not a forced throw but rather threw it exactly where his receiver could catch it, Register made the play for about a 15-yard gain.
Rodrick Williams ran with the first team most of the time but it is still three backs getting most of the reps. Rodney Smith maybe had the best run of the day bursting through a hole clean for what would have been a huge gain. The defensive front-seven was controlling things for much of practice but on a particular play the first-team offense broke huddle and blew up a hole for Nugget who blew through for a nice gain also. Berkely had a couple nice carries as well, but consistency is still an issue for him. I think the belief is still that Williams starts game one, Smith gets plenty of carries, Edwards is in the mix but eventually Smith takes hold of the backfield.
Maye and Wolitarsky are your clear-cut starters. Jeff Jones, Eric Carter, Melvin Holland Jr and Desmond Gant are also getting a ton of reps. Maye is clearly taking a leadership role with this group and is really playing with a ton of confidence out there. Jones made a couple of nice grabs on poor throws today, nothing spectacular but was able to catch a bad throw and still control his body to get turned around and making positive yards out of it. Gant is a freak and I think if anybody steps out to be a big-play kinda guy it will be him. Wolitarsky and Holland are getting plenty of reps just haven't really stood out on anything in the time I have been there.
Both of the true freshmen have been impressive to me in the two practices I have seen. Rashad Still looks the part with a really long frame and good speed. Hunter Register has made some really nice catches and should be a guy who we will enjoy watching.
Interesting today that on a handful of plays with ones was #26 Brian Smith a redshirt walk-on from Milwaukee. Might have just been a coincidence as the receivers move in and out all over the place, but he was on the field more than I expected.
Brandon Lingen was the most impressive today. He made a nice catch or two, I noticed a really nice block on one of the running plays and was running a lot with the ones. Wozniak was in a lot with the twos. When I was at practice on Saturday I saw a lot more Gibson and Anyanwu than I did today. Lingen is going to be a factor and play a lot this year.
Foster Bush was in at left tackle. I was unable to locate Ben Lauer so maybe he is injured or I was just blind (see here for an injury update on Ben). The rest of the line was as expected. Bush-Christenson-Bobek-Campion-Pirsig. Quinn Oseland was running with second team at LT with Bush moving up to the ones. The twos look like this...Oseland-Bjorklund-Moore-C Mayes-A-Mayes.
This group was pretty good and active today. Hank Ekpe was disruptive, Gaelin Elmore made a couple plays and Richardson was deep in the backfield a couple times. As I mentioned above I think this group out-performed the OL today.
Your starting LBs didn't get a ton of reps today. Particularly Lynn and Campbell were just not in there very much. Which meant a lot of reps for Celestin, Poock, Julian Huff and Jalyn Waters. Celestin really stood out and was in on several plays. Was very impressed with him today and expect he will be on the field quite a bit.
This group was really active and fun to watch today. Murray and Boddy-Calhoun were their usual shut-down-selves. What impressed me the most was the active coaching BBC was doing on the sideline to help out the young corners, particularly Kiante Hardin the true freshman from Missouri. Hardin, of any of the true freshmen DBs, is going to play this year. He got a lot of reps today with true freshman Antonio Shenault getting a lot of reps at the other corner. Shenault missed a few plays and had coaches in his ear while Hardin had a nice day garnering praise from coaches and his upper-classmen piers at times.
Adukenly Ayinde is still your first back on the field in nickle situation with Travis moving up to nickle. This guy has come out of nowhere to really earn himself a place on the field. Your second string defensive backfield appears to be Myrick and James at corner with Ace Rogers and Ayinde at safety with Duke McGhee playing on the second team nickle package.
The defense was ahead of the offense for much of the day. There were a lot of checkdown throws to backs and tight ends while most attempts to go deep resulted in incompletes or a pick. Checkdowns and 3-6 yard plays are great if we can keep defenses on their heels and stay patient for long drives. But today the Gopher defense played well highlighted by Jonathan Celestine, Hank Ekpe and Briean Boddy-Calhoun in my opinion.
The real excitement of the day was a drone flying overhead for a portion of practice. My initial reaction was that it must be something the staff was doing to get a different view of practice. But soon a couple of the support staff was moving quickly to where the drone was landing (just outside the fences in the SW corner). As I left practice I actually saw the guy carrying his drone back into his apartment, probably just a kid having some fun with a new toy. Or a badger spy, expect snipers at practice on Thursday.
Friday is open to the public again and Saturday is an open scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.