When Philip Nelson moved into the starting lineup, it triggered another move, too. With a freshman quarterback experiencing his first collegiate games, Gophers coach Jerry Kill asked quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski to watch the games from the sidelines, rather than from the coaches' booth.
"I'd like to have Jimmy in the box, but having a young quarterback, you don't want to get too many people talking to the kid," Kill said. "I may say a couple of things to him, but I don't want him to get different communication" during games. So until Nelson gets more experience as the starter, Zebrowski is there to offer immediate feedback and advice the moment the teenage quarterback comes off the field.
"Jimmy's pretty good at molding young quarterbacks," Kill said.
That's not the only lineup change Kill has made to his game-day staff. Assistant head coach Bill Miller, who spent the first year and a half of his Gophers tenure coaching linebackers on the sidelines, has moved up to the booth, where Miller believes he can be far more effective. Miller, who has served as defensive coordinator for seven other teams, has spent virtually his entire 35-year career in the booth on game days.
"I think he felt I wanted him on the field, so he didn't ask me about it," Kill said. "But [special assistant] Mike Sherels has done such a good job of the communication with the kids on the field, we didn't need both. And [Miller] is good in the booth, so we felt like it was a good move."
Top threat still out
A.J. Barker, the Gophers' leading receiver, has not practiced this week, and Kill sounded resigned to facing Nebraska without him on Saturday. Barker has sat out two games since suffering a sprained ankle while scoring a touchdown against Purdue on Oct. 27. But Kill said Derrick Engel, a junior from Chaska who has caught 10 passes and a touchdown, has returned to practice and could play.
Ed Olson will play at left tackle, Kill said, after missing four games because of a sprained ankle of his own, though he may not start and will likely be limited. Marek Lenkiewicz figures to get the start at Olson's spot. But Tommy Olson is the probable starter at left guard, with Zac Epping moving over to center from that spot.
Quarterback/receiver MarQueis Gray has long been told that he's a potential NFL player, and lately he's begun hearing from others who believe it, too.
"The calls and [e-mails] from agents are starting to come in," Gray said this week. "I just defer them until after the season. I'll talk to them after our bowl game or our [team] banquet or something. I'm just worried about finishing my career here."
And his coach is worried about agents not tampering with the Gophers. NCAA rules prohibit players from hiring an agent, and Kill said he takes precautions before every season to make sure players understand rules about hiring agents or accepting gifts or loans, and the consequences to violating them.
"I've brought in an agent I trust. He gets up and tells them, 'I can't get you to the NFL.' An agent can't do that, no matter [the promises]," Kill said. "We talk to the kids all the time. They're not [allowed to attend] practice. You just educate them the best you can from Day 1."