Saturday figures to be a big day for the Gopher football team, and a long one, too. It's the first of five sets of two-a-days, with workouts scheduled for 8:50 a.m. and 4:50 p.m.
But it's also the first time the coaches will begin to make decisions about players and roles (and perhaps for the freshmen, redshirts). The afternoon session will include a series of situational scrimmages, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said, "and that's going to answer a lot of questions. We're going to put a lot of pressure on the kids to perform well."
And once they see the results, Claeys said, the staff will set its first depth chart. Plenty of time to change it, of course, but you can sense that the Gophers are ready to leave the acclimation part of camp behind and start getting serious about the shape of the team.
First, though, a few notes from Friday's practice, the fifth of the fall and the first in full pads:
-- With the pads comes an increase in physicality. There were a lot more big hits -- including one on the quarterback, which isn't supposed to happen. But during an 11-on-11 drill, Max Shortell came through the line and linebacker Aaron Hill instinctively made the stop. Shortell bounced up, though.
-- Shortell had a generally rough day throwing the ball, but he did connect on a couple of memorable passes. He threaded a pass between two defenders once to connect with fellow freshman Logan Hutton, a dangerous play that resulted in a big gain when the defenders collided. And he led Hutton on a sideline route that finished with an impressive, and successful, dive for the ball.
-- Also a rough day for the running backs; Devon Wright, Lamonte Edwards and David Cobb all fumbled the ball, much to coach Jerry Kill's annoyance.
-- The practice ended with a series of four-down scrimmages, with three units rotating in, and most notable was the quarterbacks: MarQueis Gray and a pair of freshmen, Shortell and Dexter Foreman. I don't know if Kill simply wanted to give the kids a chance or if Foreman is really in the mix now, but the coach certainly seems impressed by his freshmen.
-- Those get-a-first-down scrimmages didn't go well for the offense; at least the first four or five "drives" fizzled. Not until Foreman handed off to David Cobb -- yep, another true freshman -- for an eight-yard gain did the offense pick up a first down. "You gotta be getting first downs!" Kill yelled at his players as he made them do up-downs as punishment. Cobb, incidentally, had just been loudly lectured a few plays earlier for bad technique, resulting in a short gain; Kill derisively called him "rookie," as he walked away.
-- Minor injuries are keeping DE Matt Garin, CB Brock Vereen and OG Ryan Orton out of practice. Josh Campion got extra playing time with the starters on the offensive line as a result, while Ben Perry was getting reps on the defensive line. And in the secondary? There must have been two dozen different combinations, as the lineup kept changing. "I couldn't keep track of them all," agreed Claeys.
But the extra work is good, he said. "During the season, you don't get to rep a lot of kids. So with all these reps we get now, if we have an injury and they have to go in one week, hopefully they can bring back some of the memory and be ready to go," Claeys said, shortening "repetition" as both a noun and verb. "You don't learn anything by standing on the sidelines watching, and just watching film. You've got to get in there, get burned every now and then and give up a big play, and you learn a lot quicker."
Claeys said he's beginning to get a clearer picture of the defense everywhere but on the defensive line. But "I think we're ahead of where we were in the spring. We've got a long way to go, but we are ahead."