I wish I could say a lot was learned at today's Gopher scrimmage in TCF Bank Stadium, but it was clear that the practice was a lot more about getting used to how this coaching staff works than anything else. Practice hard, practice fast, don't dwell on a mistake but don't make it again. It was like your first day at a new job -- it's more about getting comfortable than actually accomplishing anything.
Jerry Kill was all over the field for the Gophers' first outdoor practice of the spring, of course, and he got so worked up at times, his face was still flushed bright red as he met with reporters afterward. But for all the yelling and upbraiding he does -- "Do you want some ice cream?" he shouted at a receiver who took too long to return to the huddle -- Kill emphasized that none of it it personal.
The players know it, too. MarQueis Gray made a few mistakes, too, but said Kill's corrections were helping him. "He's not negative at all," Gray said.
The position of note is Gray's, of course, and the Gophers' force-feeding their new quarterback is clearly underway. He was involved from start to finish, conferring with the coaches when he wasn't taking part in the play. The coordinators spent the scrimmage observing from the press box, giving Gray a chance to practice reading play-calling signals, which he said was tough at first but got easier as the day went on.
Tom Parish was the only backup who played, and he did well. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Parish, a redshirt freshman, knows the offense better than anyone but Gray. But I'd expect Moses Alipate to get just as many snaps next Saturday.
Some of the veterans played only a little in order to get lesser-known players some time. Duane Bennett, for instance, gave way to Donnell Kirkwood and DeLeon Eskridge for much of the day. Eric Lair was just a part-timer, so John Rabe, Collin McGarry and Mike Henry could get on the field.
The offensive line consisted of Ed Olson, Ryan Wynn, Jimmy Gjere, Chris Bunders and Ryan Orton, so it definitely had the first-team look. Marcus Jones and Da'Jon McKnight were the pass-catchers with that group. As Kill said, since the Gophers only have six healthy wideouts, "they probably ran 20 miles today."
On defense, the first-team lineup included Brandon Kirksey, Anthony Jacobs, D.L. Wilhite and Kendall Gregory-McGee on the line Saturday, with Brendon Beal, Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper at linebacker and James Manuel, Shady Salamon, Kyle Henderson and Troy Stoudermire in the secondary. No big surprises.
A few of the highlights on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon:
-- Kirkwood and Eskridge had similar experiences during their drives. Kirkwood gained six and eight yards on his first two carries, then lost a yard when the defense adjusted. Eskridge picked up five and eight yards, then also lost a yard.
-- Harold Legania and Ra'Shede Hageman combined on a sack of Gray, who got a lecture about holding the ball too long.
-- McKnight made another amazing one-handed catch, but was out of bounds when he did it.
-- Receiver A.J. Barker and cornerback Kyle Henderson both came down with a pass, and struggled for several seconds, trying to pull it away from each other. Henderson finally came up with a novel solution: He picked Barker up and carried him a few yards. Barker, by the way, made a nice catch of an underneath route near the end of the day, but fumbled as he was tackled. Kill lauded Cooper for stripping the ball away.
-- Punter Dan Orseske generally did a good job of booming his kicks, a point of emphasis for the new coach.
-- One drive ended with a field-goal try that was foiled by a poor snap, and Kill expressed his unhappiness over it pretty clearly.
-- My favorite Kill-ism (and the list is getting long, isn't it?) of the day: As Eskridge picked himself up after a tackle, Kill yelled, "Get back to the huddle! You ain't signing autographs!"