Weber safer, but will he be sorry?

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2009 - 12:11 AM

The Gophers QB was the second-leading rusher last year in a spread offense. But now he's in a more conventional offense with few opportunities to run. Is that a good thing?

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Gophers quarterback Adam Weber

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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If you thought you noticed a difference in the Gophers' offense on Saturday at Syracuse, you should have seen the difference Tuesday.

I stood on Adam Weber's flank and asked him a question, and he didn't need a mirror or a chiropractor to see me.

"Last year, I'd wake up and sometimes my ribs and my neck ... well, I could barely move my neck,'' Weber said. "That was nice this week, on Sunday. Waking up, I could actually talk to people on my left and right.''

Bipartisanship and flexibility aside, Weber, the Gophers junior, looked like a different quarterback Saturday. The Gophers won 23-20 in overtime, but Weber took to new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's more conventional system like a duck to asphalt.

The Weber we had become accustomed to in former coordinator Mike Dunbar's "Spread Coast'' offense had been replaced by an imposter who looked tentative in the pocket and unwilling to leave it.

"Yeah, that was a little weird,'' linebacker Lee Campbell said. "I'm sure he'd like to get out there and bloody his nose a little bit, and show the guys what he's all about.''

The Weber we became fond of the past two seasons adopted the motto "No pain, no gains.'' He would take off on designed runs and plow through linebackers, often returning to the huddle with his eyes pointed at the sideline and his nose at the scoreboard.

Weber was the rare college student who donated blood without getting a payoff from the Red Cross.

The "Spread Coast'' suited Weber because he was quick enough to start runs from the pocket and strong enough to finish them.

Asked if there are many designed quarterback runs in the new scheme, coach Tim Brewster said, "Not really, no. We have a couple of quarterback draws, but we don't have much in the package. We have a couple of things obviously for MarQueis Gray, but are we like we've been in the last couple of years, in the spread offense? No.''

Which is strange. Weber was the Gophers' second-leading rusher last year, even though sack yardage is subtracted from a quarterback's rushing total in the college game. Gray, a dynamic athlete, would seem to be even more suited to the spread than a conventional offense.

Results and schemes aside, Weber won admiration from teammates and fans with his running. A quarterback needing his shoulder pad and perhaps his jaw shoved back into place as he steps into the huddle tends to energize his linemen.

"It's a whole different thing this year,'' Weber said. "You wake up, and you can actually get out of bed. It's something new, but I think with this style of offense, we allow our running backs to run the ball, and that's something that will allow us to be a much better offense.''

Doesn't he miss the thrill of the chase?

"Of course,'' he said. "You miss a little bit of it. But there will be situations that come up where all the linebackers will shoot out of there, and there will be opportunities to take off. I'll definitely look for those and look to run downfield and look for somebody to hit.

"But I know I've got to take care of my body. As I get older and older, I'm starting to feel it more and more.''

With that sentence, Weber threatened to offend a very crotchety demographic. He turned 22 in August.

He's right, though, that football players who withstand physical abuse age in dog years. NFL running backs traditionally decline after the age of 30.

What was alarming Saturday was that Weber's rushing yards were not replaced by more efficient passing. He looked like he's still learning the offense.

"I'd like to believe we're comfortable now," Weber said, without sounding comfortable. "Nothing can replicate experience.''

A couple of stiff-arms might help.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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