After bursting for a 70-yard touchdown run against the Gophers’ third-team defense in Saturday’s scrimmage, freshman running back Berkley Edwards is moving up in class.
Edwards is among several freshmen who will get opportunities to play with the first and second teams in Thursday’s scrimmage, as the coaches hone their list of players who could contribute right away instead of redshirting.
Edwards is one of the smallest players on the roster at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he has sprinter’s speed. Asked Wednesday if the speedy, yet smallish back has a chance to contribute as a third-down back this year, coach Jerry Kill said: “Shoot, if he keeps learning, he may do more than that. I mean, he’s a good athlete.”
“I think the next three or four practices are real important to him because he’s another one that’s got a different gear than a lot of other people,” Kill added. “So you’d like to utilize that gear throughout the Big Ten season, but you’ve got to get him comfortable.”
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said Edwards has stood out on special teams, too.
“When you watch the kicking game, if you take the wrong overlap angle, you aren’t catching him down the field,” Claeys said. “So you better get on your horse, and you better have the right angle, or he’s going to get by you. It’s nice to have somebody like that, it really is.”
Among the other freshmen who will face key tests in Thursday’s scrimmage:
• Defensive end Hendrick Ekpe will continue getting reps with the first and second teams. As Kill said this week, “Every day Hank steps on the field, he gets five pounds bigger, and faster and stronger.”
• Quarterback Donovahn Jones will continue getting opportunities at wide receiver, where he has a chance to play this season.
• Safety Daletavious McGhee. “He’s played awfully well in the secondary for us,” Claeys said.
• Cornerback Jalen Myrick. Claeys likes his size and speed and said he could be the nickel back “because with his size, he can blitz and put a dent in you.”
Junior-college transfer De’Vondre Campbell continues to work his way into the team’s immediate plans. Technically, he is behind Aaron Hill on the depth chart, but Claeys said it is possible both Campbell and Hill could start.
“We’re going to get [Campbell] as many reps as we can,” Claeys said. “He reminds me a lot of [cornerback] Eric Murray. The first time he sees something, he’ll probably do it wrong, but after you show him on film, he corrects his mistakes and has been a very pleasant surprise.”
Claeys said the two starting middle linebacker candidates — Damien Wilson and Jack Lynn — “both deserve to play.” He doesn’t plan to rotate either of them to an outside spot in the three-linebacker alignment, so that each can focus on his duties in the middle.
The Gophers have had a couple of players get ill and a few minor injuries during fall camp, but so far, it’s been good camp health-wise.
“I wouldn’t say perfectly healthy,” Kill said this week. “We’ve got about four or five out every practice, which sometimes can be 15-20. So right now, I think we’ve handled the workload pretty good.”