My sincere apologies for the lack of movement on this blog over the past few weeks. I have been basking in the glory of my career highlight; a mid-March interview of adult film star Joslyn James on ESPN-1500. James would've fit in perfectly Sunday night alongside Miss Colorado and Miss California during the Miss USA pageant. A sidenote: could you imagine having your fate decided by Johnny Weir and Carmelo Anthony?
But onto the point: alongside hard-hitting questions about the new Arizona immigration law, or whether birth control should be paid for through your health insurance, this little doozy could've been added: what is Adam Weber's legacy? Miss Michigan could've said, "He torched my Spartans last year for 416 yards and five touchdowns; I'd say he's pretty good." Miss South Dakota could've offered this rebuttal: "Did you see him against my Division I-AA Jackrabbits? In the 36th start of his college career, he looked scared to deliver the ball. 94 yards -- are you kidding me?"
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a Weber apologist. From Jedd Fisch foolishly tweaking his throwing motion last year, to poor offensive line play and the lack of a running game, there are many reasons to explain his below-average 2009 season (13 TDs, 15 INTs). Losing go-to receiver Eric Decker during the season also didn't help. But at some point, if Weber is to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in Gophers' history -- his numbers have him in the conversation -- he has to make more plays and, more importantly, win more games. He is as much of a sports enigma as we have in this town, and those who disagree with the decision to start him in 2010 have lit up the message boards. The vitriolic ill will is intense.
He is 14-24 as the Gophers' starting quarterback. But he also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008, an indication that he has shown flashes of brilliance.
Weber is onto his fourth offensive coordinator in five years. Everything I've heard about Jeff Horton is positive. One of his colleagues on the Detroit Lions staff last year has nothing but endless praise for him. Now it's on Horton to ensure that Weber reaches his full potential. It's also on assistant coach Tim Davis to do the same with his offensive line and Thomas Hammock with his running backs. Football is the sport with the most moving parts. Weber needs a lot of help. But if he gets that help, he could shatter many school records and save head coach Tim Brewster's job. This is exactly why Weber is Brewster's guy this year; his job is on the line, and Weber gives him the best opportunity to win. Weber's college legacy will be written this year. It's up to him to make it an easier answer at next year's Miss USA pageant.
Four months later, the thought of last season's Gopher football team executing a "drive for the ages" is even more comical than on the day it was written. Based on that statement, I would understand if KFAN's Dan Cole shut down his "Preposterous Statement of the Year" selection process right now.
While most offenses improve during the season, last year's Gophers managed to score just one offensive touchdown in their final 43 possessions. They also failed to score an offensive touchdown in 20 of their last 28 quarters. In three games, they scored just one offensive touchdown -- the one vs. Ohio State came against their second and third-stringers in garbage time -- and in three others failed to score any. The offense finished last in the Big Ten in points, touchdowns, total yards, and rushing yards.
This year's offense should be better. While I have heard good things about new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, quarterback Adam Weber will have to do more than "manage" the game, as Tim Brewster recently suggested. Weber will never have a "drive for the ages," but at some point he will have to make meaningful throws late in games. Will those passes end up in the other team's hands like they did far too often last year (13 TDs, 15 INTs)? In addition, one of Brewster's biggest dilemmas will be what to do with quarterback MarQueis Gray. He was brought here to run a spread offense. He is too good of an athlete to not use, but what will Brewster do with him? The bottom-line is he has to find a way to get him onto the field.
Losing the best receiver in the program's history -- Eric Decker -- creates what Brewster would call a "tremendous" hole. Who is the real Da'Jon McKnight? The one with no catches in the first eight games of 2009, or the one with 11 receptions for 187 yards in the final two games. Brewster also needs to find a starting running back (my guess is he is not on campus yet) and above-average left and right tackles.
Last year's defense had its moments, but has to replace all three linebackers. However, after finishing 10th in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for a loss, improvement, especially with better athletes, should come. This year's defense is intriguing. At Saturday's scrimmage, they looked to have their most athletic front-four in the past five years. The issue will be getting adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman looks the part, but has never taken a snap that matters on defense. He is a physical specimen, but may take a full year to develop, which could be too late for Brewster. Insiders tell me that right defensive end D.L. Wilhite is having a great spring, but will that translate when he has to go against the better left tackles in the Big Ten? If opposing quarterbacks have the same amount of time to throw as they did last year, they will complete 60 percent or better of their throws. None of it will matter if cornerbacks Ryan Collado and Michael Carter don't improve. Brewster needs to find a middle linebacker and also has to figure out if current outside linebacker Keanon Cooper fits better at safety. On Saturday, anytime he got near the line of scrimmage, his lack of size stood out.
After attempting to raise the bar -- although it set a dangerous precedent, which involves winning -- this should be the defining year for Brewster. If we see measurable progress and, more importantly, enough wins with a tough schedule, he might buy himself a few more years. On the other hand, lose and, with a minimal buyout, the Mike Leach to Minnesota rumors will begin in earnest by January. This year's schedule contains nine games against teams that went to a bowl game in 2009. The fanbase has no interest in a repeat of the Illinois and South Dakota State debacles from last year. Putting the wins and losses aside, if Brewster can deliver noticeable improvement, he deserves another year. But will his bosses and the boosters feel that way? He may need to win eight or more games, which would be a "season for the ages."