Mitch Leidner completed nine of 11 passes with one touchdown and ran for another score Friday night at the Bierman indoor practice facility, highlighting the Gophers first scrimmage of the spring.
Leidner, a redshirt freshman, had an easier time moving the second-team offense down the field than sophomore Philip Nelson did moving the first team. Nelson eventually found his groove, completing five of nine passes, setting up two touchdowns and a field goal.
“What I liked about them both is they were composed,” Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. “You could tell they both had been there. They did some good things, missed a couple go routes and little things, but I saw a lot of leadership, driving the team.”
Kirkwood watches other running backs get tested
Donnell Kirkwood, who led the Gophers with 958 rushing yards last year, watched from the sideline, as the coaching staff gave a long look at their other running backs, especially David Cobb and Rodrick Williams.
Cobb drew six consecutive carries as the first-team offense went three-and-out on its first two possessions. He later broke a 40-yard touchdown run, only to have it called back with a penalty, and eventually scored on a two-yard TD plunge.
Williams had a fumble recovered by linebacker Damien Wilson but later had carries of 17 and 25 yards. James Gillum also had carries of 15 and 11 yards.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of what Donnell’s going to do ... so it was a good opportunity to up the reps of all the other guys and start trying to cull that herd a little bit,” Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.
Another adventurous night for Gophers centers
The Gophers needed three centers to get through last season, and Friday was more of the same.
Junior center Brian Bobek missed all three practices this week after catching a flu bug that’s been going around the team. That thrust third-string center Ernie Heifort into duty with the second team, and he drew Coach Jerry Kill’s wrath after some erratic snaps to Leidner.
Jon Christenson, who has been playing center with the first-team offense, suffered an ankle injury on the first drive but didn’t miss a series. He got the ankle taped and was right back on the field.
“Jon’s a great kid,” Limegrover said. “I mean you’re going to literally have to cut a limb off for him not to come back out on the field. That’s something we’re working on as a team is toughness -- not just physical toughness but mental toughness. We don’t want them to be stupid. But at the same time, 'Can I fight through this? Is it pain or is it an injury?'”
* Third-string quarterback Chris Streveler played one series and got sacked twice by Alex Keith.
* Derrick Engel had at least three receptions, Isaac Fruechte had at least two receptions, and KJ Maye had at least two receptions. Leidner made a nice play-action play on his 10-yard TD pass to Victor Keise. Jamel Harbison also ran for a 15-yard reverse.
* Kicker Chris Hawthorne booted a 28-yard field goal.
* The Gophers next practice is Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., and the annual Spring Game is April 27.