The Gophers football team will conclude spring practices at 11 a.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and coach Jerry Kill said he believes the team has made some progress, after certainly having a much better spring than a year ago when the coaches and the players didn't know each other as they do now.

"We've got to keep moving forward and working ahead," Kill said about Saturday's spring game, which is open to the public without charge. "We're still going to have to rely on some young people that are coming in to help us out and build the depth of our program, but I think some kids have gotten better and worked hard, and we appreciate that."

Kill has been impressed by the freshmen who graduated early and took part in spring practice and the junior college players who enrolled in time to also participate.

"We're very pleased with where they're at," Kill said. "To be honest with you, we're a lot farther ahead with them than I thought we would be.

"You can't say anything is a lot better until you play games on Saturday, but I think we've added some size and some speed and we've moved some people around. I think Derrick Wells, moving him to safety has been a tremendous move. We haven't had [defensive back] Brock Vereen, who is a very, very good football player this spring, because he has a knee [injury], but he'll be ready in the spring. I think we'll have some depth and we'll have some athleticism, we're just very young [in the secondary], except for Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter. The rest are young and very talented, and in the weight room -- they've done a great job in the weight room, a lot of that credit goes to the kids and [strength and conditioning] coach [Eric] Klein."

"There is more speed among the defensive line and the linebackers and this should help a lot this year."

Quarterback MarQueis Gray has enjoyed a good spring and, speaking about the running backs, Kill had good things to say about David Cobb, Donnell Kirkwood and James Gillum, a junior college transfer.

"I think we have two good kids coming in, we may move one of them, let them play receiver -- I think we'll be all right."

The punting game was a big problem last year. A punter was not recruited, but Dan Orseske, who had some bad days last year, has shown a lot of improvement this spring.

Look for the offensive line to be bigger, stronger and quicker.

The biggest improvement in the defensive line will be the good pass rushing ability of Thieren Cockran, a 6-6, 235-pound defensive lineman who was redshirted last year and has come on strong this spring.

One thing in favor of the Gophers is the early schedule. Instead of opening at Southern California, they should be a favorite to beat UNLV on the road, a team that lost its last game at Texas Christian 56-9. Then the Gophers come home to play three games in a row.

Stadiums available

For those in the Legislature who don't believe the Vikings could have a place to play if they decided to move to Los Angeles this year, the city offers several options.

Anaheim Stadium (seating capacity: 69,000), where the Rams played before they moved to St. Louis, would be available. Then there is the Coliseum (93,600), home of the USC Trojans and where the Raiders and the Rams played at different times. And last but not least, the Rose Bowl (92,500), home of the UCLA Bruins, could be made available and has played host to the Super Bowl five times.

And, attention state lawmakers: New Orleans spent $320 million to give the Saints a remodeled Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, and as a result, the city played host to the Final Four and the BCS national championship game this year and also will hold the 2013 Super Bowl.


• Jason LaFrenz, associate Gophers athletic director, reports the athletic department has selected the Aspire Group of Atlanta to help sell season and group tickets, with the emphasis on football and basketball. Aspire has similar contracts with universities in major metropolitan markets, including Arizona State, Georgia Tech and Rutgers. Aspire will have 10 full-time sales people selling Gophers tickets starting on June 4. Aspire is expected to generate $1 million in annual ticket sales for the Gophers.

• The Kenny Chesney-Tim McGraw "Brothers of the Sun Concert" scheduled for Target Field on July 8th sold out in a hurry. Also scheduled at the ballpark is the American Heart Association's Heart Walk on May 19, the Gophers-Penn State baseball game on May 5th and the state high school baseball tournament title games in June.

• Brian Dozier, the Twins farmhand at Rochester who was hitting .524 at one time, has cooled off to .340. And former Twins starting shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka is up to .216 after a horrible start.

• Gophers wrestler Brad Dolezal won the Greco-Roman title at the FILA Nationals in Madison this week. Visiting the U athletic department on Thursday was Jim Molinari, the interim basketball coach for the Gophers when Dan Monson was fired after the 2006-07 season started. Molinari is in his fourth year as coach at Western Illinois, and enjoyed the best season in the school's history this year when it compiled a 18-15 record and lost to South Dakota State in overtime in the Summit League tournament.

Chip Armelin, who is leaving the Gophers basketball program, said he has heard from a number of schools, including LSU and Tulsa. ... Charles Buggs, the 6-8 Gophers basketball recruit from Hargrave Military Academy, wound up the season with an average of 18 points, three steals and two blocks. Buggs, along with Wally Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis., will be in summer school at the U. Ellenson finished his career with an average of 20.1 points per game and his 1,356 points made him the all-time scoring leader for his school.

Zach Sanders, who had a great wrestling career with the Gophers and finished third in the NCAA championships, will take part in the Olympic trials in Iowa City this weekend.

• Former Gophers hockey player Jacob Cepis is among the ECHL league leaders in scoring with four goals and four assists in seven playoff games for the Idaho Steelheads. Cepis had 20 goals and 25 assists in 57 regular season games. ... Taylor Matson has a goal and an assist in five games for the Chicago Wolves of AHL and Jake Hansen has an assist in two games for Springfield.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m.