The Gophers aren't the only ones who need a shower after football practice these days -- fans get a little dirty, too. The Gibson-Nagurski practice field is adjacent to a construction site these days, what with the new Seibert Field being built for the baseball team, and there are several earth-moving tractors stirring up dust while the Gophers play football a few feet away.
But Jerry Kill's construction project is proceeding nicely, too, and the coach sounded relatively upbeat after the Gophers' first practice in full pads. "We got a lot of situations done today. We're trying to rep every player we have, so we can get ready for the scrimmage (on Friday) so we can really get a fair evaluation of what they can do," he said. "We certainly have had a lot of bright spots."
Martez Shabazz was one of them on Wednesday. The juco cornerback had three or four pass break-ups, including a diving deflection that foiled a 15-yard pass to Marcus Jones. Another new corner, freshman Eric Murray, sped into the backfield on a cornerback blitz to make a two-hand-touch tackle on quarterback Philip Nelson. Max Shortell had some good moments, too, including a rollout to his right that turned into a 40-yard pass in stride to Isaac Fruechte. And D.L. Wilhite, whose penchant for big hits has occasionally gotten him into trouble during practices with Kill, got into the backfield and clobbered Donnell Kirkwood on one running play just a half-second after the running back received the handoff.
There were a couple of nice first-down runs during the second-and-eight drill, too, with both James Gillum and David Cobb showing some great speed bursts to break tackles. And freshman K.J. Maye got plenty of reps in the backfield, too, making me wonder whether a redshirt year is automatic in his case. He's only 190 pounds and the Gophers have a lot of options at tailback -- but his speed might be too tempting for an offense that needs weapons.
There were some misses, too. Fumbled snaps continue to be a recurring problem -- on one play Wednesday, quarterback Philip Nelson picked up what appeared to be a snap that was rolled to him. Give the freshman credit, he snatched the ball and started looking for a way to pick up yardage on the play, but the daily drops are clearly annoying the coaches.
No coach was more annoyed than Kill, however, when two different plays during the practice-closing scrimmage ended with a helmet coming off. Under new rules, when that happens during a game, the player must leave the field for a play, so Kill was furious about it. "That can't happen!" he screamed. "Do your job!"
Mostly, the first day in pads was somewhat anti-climactic, with few big hits. But after Thursday's first two-a-day session, the Gophers will scrimmage, and I'm guessing the intensity will pick up.
A roster change to note: Tight end Kendall Gregory-McGhee has a back injury, Kill said, so the Gophers replaced him on the 105-man roster. That they chose a receiver, sophomore Cameron Wilson, probably reflects the position that the coaches still feel is their thinnest.
Practices begin at 9:10 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. on Thursday, right next to the construction site. The Gophers will scrimmage in TCF Bank Stadium at 10:25 a.m. on Friday. Those two days represent the last chance for the public to watch practice this fall.