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Minnesota Football: Gopher Practice Observations

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GN went to a couple of practices last week. Here are his thoughts.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I was able to spend a little bit of time at two Gopher practices last week and I wanted to give some initial observations and impressions from the time spent observing.  The intent here is to be much less specific and detailed, but more observational.  Remember, this was a portion of just a couple practices so there really is not a ton that can be gleaned from this short time.

Hoping to wet your appetite just a little...

QUARTERBACKS

Mitch Leidner looked very similar to Mitch Leidner.  He made a couple impressive throws, he squeezed a couple into tight spaces and he had one that I recall where he didn't see Jonathan Celestine who dropped what would have been an easy pick-6.  It is very early and there's really nothing to be concerned or overly excited about.  Mitch is a leader, he's a good QB and that's exactly what we will see on opening night.

With the rest of the guys, nobody really stood out ahead of the others to me at least.  Demry Croft continues to throw just a beautiful ball.  They are just pretty throws.  How he handles the rest of being a quarterback is yet to be determined but he will be your #2 on the depth chart this Fall.

I like the look of Seth Green, he made some nice throws as well and he has the size to be under center at this level.  He has a ways to go and fortunately he'll be able to redshirt.  Mark Williams is smaller, but he has really good athleticism and the double-glove-wearing freshman should benefit from a year to redshirt as well.

Next year should be really interesting with Croft, Green and Williams battling it out for QB1 (assuming a JUCO isn't brought in).

RUNNING BACKS

With Shannon Brooks injured for a while it is no surprise that Rodney Smith will get a ton of reps.  We know what to expect from him and should be very excited about the season we will get from #1.He's looked goon in the limited carries I saw but it was Koby McCrary who was getting quite a bit more work and you will certainly see him as the #2 back until Brooks is back and healthy.

McCrary is a really big back but he carries it well and he really has some shiftiness to him.  He was obviously brought in to give the position some depth and experience should Brooks or Smith go down for any period of time.  He looks like he will be the guy getting additional carries and I think we will all be pretty pleased.

WIDE RECEIVERS

The guy here who has really caught my eye was Rashad Still.  The kid is really filling out that tall frame of his.  He looks like a beast and I'm pretty excited to see what he does this year.  Hunter Register also was impressive and made a couple nice catches, getting some separation.  Drew Wolitarsky really was a favorite target of Leidner's and I think you can expect to see him see a big increase in receptions.

Last guy I'll talk about is Tyler Johnson.  The true freshman really looks like he is going to be a legit Big Ten receiver.  He has good size, particularly for a true freshman and there have been other practice reports about how he has already excelled at going up and getting the ball, being a physical receiver.  One true freshman who very well could earn his way onto the field this year.

At TE, Lingen wasn't participating.  Wozniak is a big dude. And Colton Beebe is getting a lot of reps with the first team.

OFFENSIVE LINE

I observed very little of the line.  Garrison Wright is your starting LT and when he was not practicing Chad Fahning moved into the spot.  Connor Mayes was the 1st team LG, Tyler Moore was at center, Vincent Calhoun was your RG and Jonah Pirsig was your RT.  No major surprises here.  The firs team line has been pretty good and seem more physical.  Not a lot to glean from the line play in the time I've been there but they will be improved over last year.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Really like our tackles and am nervous about the ends.  Nothing changed my opinion either way in the practices I've seen.  Tackles are rather deep. A few times you had Yoshoub Timms going up against the 3rd string OL and he made several plays in the backfield.  He's not a first team caliber DT but he's experienced and good enough to dominate your 3rd string OL.

Richardson is a disruptive force and is really kind of fun to watch.

At end...nobody has really stood out or been making plays.

LINEBACKERS

Man do I love this position group from starters to freshmen.  We know the starters will be Celestin, Poock and Lynn and they are all playmakers.  Cody hasn't been practicing much but I've been impressed with Celestin and Lynn quite a bit.

Then you get to the freshmen, who all may end up contributing this year.  Carter Caughlin has great size and is athletic, as expected.  He moves well on the field and as he gets a little stronger he's going to be very good.  But Kamal Martin has been maybe more impressive.  I do think you'll see him playing on some passing downs as a rushing end.  And don't sleep on Thomas Barber who is a strong kid and hits.  I fully expect all three of these guys to be multi-year starters.

CORNER

We really do have a lot of quality at corner, though mostly inexperienced.  I didn't see a lot of Myrick really, he has been on the field but I don't recall him being involved in plays a ton.  No worries here cause he is a stud.  On the other side it appears as though Ray Buford is the likely starter at corner.  He's been playing well and is a really big kid for a corner (6'2" and 200 lbs).  He is thick and as we get to see more of him, it'll be interesting to see how fast he is and how well he moves while covering Big Ten receivers.  But a redshirt freshmen earning the start at corner is interesting.

The sophomores, KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault have looked fine and been getting a lot of reps.  I've seen Hardin with a couple nice pass breakups and I have no concerns about these two on the field.

SAFETY

The interesting thing here is that it appears as though Adekunle Ayinde is the current starter opposite Travis.  This concerns me a little and I hope that over time Duke McGhee, Dior Johnson or Ace Rodgers earns it.  McGhee has looked good and he's also a big kid.

The one who made an impression on my was Antoine Jr at safety.  The freshman was really impressive at closing quickly on ball-carriers and bringing them down.  I see him as a multi-year starter at safety who accumulates a LOT of tackles over his career.

OVERALL OBSERVATIONS

It was interesting watching Jay Johnson work with his quarterbacks during some of the passing drills and I think he's really going to be helpful in their development.

The offensive line is going to be one of the better ones we have seen in a few years and that is going to make a huge difference.

And lastly, I think for the last few years we've been waiting for a receiver to step up and become a play-maker.  I think this is the year we see Register and Still both become pretty good weapons who can make some big plays and score some touchdowns.