Jerry Kill shivered as he stood in shorts, the wind-whipped snow sticking to his Gophers cap, and discussed his first nighttime practice of the spring. "I probably underestimated the weather a little bit today," he said.
But even that's not a bad thing, Kill said. In fact, the 35-degree temperatures and occasionally heavy flurries, while rough on anyone dressed for summer, is a good thing for his football team, the coach believes.
"You've got to be able to play football, in the Big Ten, in all kinds of weather," Kill said. "So I think the good Lord is getting us ready for the season. And I think the kids handled it pretty good."
The offense in particular. MarQueis Gray seemed to slice through the defense any time he wanted during the scrimmage, picking up big chunks of yardage on simple quarterback keepers. But when Gray handed off, the running backs did well, too.
Duane Bennett ran off left tackle for a short touchdown on the first drive. DeLeon Eskridge had a pair of big gainers, one of them after juking safety Kim Royston and rambling into the end zone on a 30-yard touchdown. And Donnell Kirkwood had a burst for about 20 yards that included him flattening a defensive back who tried to bring him down.
"When both groups had their first groups out there, there was a lot of good things," Kill said. "The second groups, there's a lot of learning taking place." (Learning is a Jerry Kill euphemism for "making lots of mistakes.")
He said he wished that Lamonte Edwards was healthy enough to get some playing time, but the redshirt freshman still has a sore knee. Kill said it's possible Edwards can return next week. Kill also plans to test the tailbacks' blocking skills more in the coming week.
The sidelines of TCF Bank Stadium were lined with potential recruits -- lots of letter jackets getting wet with snow. There were also perhaps 50 fans there to watch, and I can't imagine what possessed them to stand in such miserable weather. But among the crowd: Vikings great Chuck Foreman. Bet he was having flashbacks to Metropolitan Stadium.
A few other observations:
-- Kill grew furious with offensive lineman Eric Jacques after he was flagged for a personal foul, and the sophomore got the up-down treatment. That meant doing Kill's favorite calisthenics for five minutes as punishment.
-- The coach doesn't just hold the players to high standards. Young up-and-coming referees are hired to work the scrimmages, and they are evaluated, too, for potential college jobs. When one threw a flag for an encroachment penalty that Kill said would never be called at this level, the coach challenged the referee. "How long have you been refereeing? I've been coaching a lot longer," he said as he, um, corrected the ref.
-- For the second straight practice, Gray connected on a long pass with Victor Keise, who is filling in with the first team while Da'Jon McKnight is injured. But Keise turned an ankle near the end zone on this one, and sat out the rest of the scrimmage, looking very cold and unhappy on the bench.
-- Cameron Botticelli flashed some impressive speed with a burst into the backfield to sack Tom Parish.
-- The Gophers tried three field goals, and transfer Chris Hawthorne nailed them all, including one from roughly 38 yards. Not too bad considering how the wind was whipping through the stadium.
-- The defense began chanting about two-thirds of the way through the practice, mostly to keep warm, I suspect. The ruckus was pretty entertaining, and even the coach enjoyed it.
"I actually think they had a little bit of fun," he said. "I've grinded them pretty hard, so it was good for them to have a little bit of fun tonight."