When the Gophers started keeping Maxx Williams out of spring football practice March 13 to protect his injured left knee, they knew they would learn something about their tight end reinforcements. Heading into Saturday’s spring game, they like what they have seen.

Drew Goodger and Lincoln Plsek are back from last year, and Nate Wozniak, a 6-9 redshirt freshman, has emerged as a tall and nimble target in the passing game.

Then there’s Duke Anyanwu, a redshirt sophomore from Blaine High School. Coach Jerry Kill has called him “one of the more improved players.”

Quarterback Mitch Leidner hit Anyanwu with a pass on three of the first four drives against the first-team defense in last Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Maxx is going to be fine [by the start of camp, Aug. 1], so that’s the big thing,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “But with [the trainers] being cautious with Maxx, it’s truly opened up opportunities this spring, and that position has gotten stronger.”

Anyanwu and Williams are both converted quarterbacks from the Class of 2012. Anyanwu tore an ACL that summer and broke a forearm last spring, slowing his development. But he has stayed committed in the weight room, adding at least 30 pounds of muscle to his 6-5 frame.

“Maxx is a great role model for me; I look up to him a lot,” Anyanwu said. “He’s given me a few pointers about what to do in games and what not to do, and that’s helped my game out a lot already.”

Spring game format

With other Big Ten coaches scaling back their spring games to prevent injuries, Kill said he has yet to settle on a format for Saturday.

“I’d say that I’m leaning towards a controlled scrimmage — offense vs. defense,” Kill said. “It will definitely be a scrimmage situation, and how long we go will be determined by how our kids handle it. The bottom line is we want to get things done, but we also want to stay healthy.”

Either way, the session at TCF Bank Stadium will be open to the public and televised on the Big Ten Network. The stadium gates open at 12:30 p.m., with an alumni game at 1 p.m. The Gophers will take the field at 2 p.m., with the spring game set to start at 2:30 p.m.

Secondary peak

The Gophers secondary has looked different this spring with Brock Vereen headed to the NFL, Briean Boddy-Calhoun working his way back from a knee injury and Derrick Wells out because of a shoulder injury. But Boddy-Calhoun and Wells are both expected to be a full strength by Aug. 1.

“I don’t think our secondary has really missed a beat,” Leidner said. “Jalen Myrick is a young guy who has stepped up and is playing really well, along with Eric Murray and a couple other guys back there at safety.

“They’re fast, and they’re only going to be that much more scary when Derrick gets back, too.”