New coach Jerry Kill is looking for a few good football players, and he values toughness over talent for now.
Most coaches use spring football practice to figure out who will play. Jerry Kill wants to see who will stay.
Fans are thinking about depth charts; Kill's mind is on report cards.
Yes, a whole new era for Minnesota football begins today with the first of 15 full practices over the next month, and let the record show that one prominent Gopher already has suggested that Kill might be fired before he can get this Big Ten bottom-dweller turned around.
The nay-sayer? Kill.
"We may take a step back before we go forward," the new coach said Wednesday, tamping down fans' optimistic expectations for his 3-9 team. "We're not going to take a damn shortcut. I may get fired doing it that way, but I'll go down my way."
His way is punishing-with-a-purpose, Kill said, inflicting a level of stress intended to distinguish players who can endure and thrive under duress -- and weed out a few who can't or won't.
"Those kids are going to get bloodied up a little bit. We're going to find out what they're about," Kill said. And if players resist? "They're not going to play. We may only have 22 out there, but that's what we'll go with. We're going to eliminate the ones who don't want to do it the Minnesota way."
Does he legitimately expect a number of defections? Only defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards and receiver Bryant Allen have left the program since Kill replaced interim coach Jeff Horton in December, but the coach strongly suggested he expects a few more once practices commence. In situations like these, Kill suggested, "80 percent are starting to get it, and 20 percent are going to fight you. But I ain't going anywhere, and I'm not changing."
Kill faces some tough decisions at running back and linebacker, a lack of depth along both lines and at receiver, and a near-total lack of collegiate experience at quarterback. But rather than tick off a list of priority positions for the spring, the coach spoke little of individual personnel decisions Wednesday. That's because, he said, he is starting every player and every position with a blank slate. No jobs are assured, even for returning starters. Even for quarterback-in-waiting MarQueis Gray.
"We will not give away playing time. You're going to earn it," Kill said. "I don't care who you've been in the past, how many games you started -- it doesn't matter to me."
And Gray, the hugely talented understudy who bided his time through the Adam Weber era by catching passes? He's a candidate to be under center, Kill said, but nothing more.
"He's going to be an impact player somewhere. If it's the quarterback, that's great, I'm all for it. But I can't say that today," Kill said. "It's hard at that position to learn something in one year, I don't care how good you are. It would have been a lot easier for MarQueis if he'd been playing quarterback the whole time."
The Gophers, however, needed him at receiver, where he caught 42 passes last year, five for touchdowns. Now Gray will compete with junior Adam Lueck, sophomore Moses Alipate and redshirt freshman Tom Parish, with recruit Max Shortell on the way, for the job he has long preferred.
Those decisions will wait, however. This will be an unusual spring session, because so much is new. Rather than firm up a depth chart, or start game-planning for the season opener, Kill said, his priorities for the next four weeks are far less specific, and far more basic:
• Sort out the players, first by commitment and toughness, then by talent. There might be some position-shifting as he tries to match ability to need. As an example, Kill said he is determined to increase the Gophers' ability to pressure quarterbacks, nearly nonexistent last year.
"We may put a linebacker down there, 225 pounds," Kill said, "but we're going to find somebody that's going to turn the corner."
The Gophers will have the services of senior safety Kim Royster, too, after the captain was cleared Wednesday to practice. He broke two bones in his left leg during drills last April and sat out the 2010 season, but was granted another year of eligibility.
• Get everyone used to juggling classes and football. Kill said no player will be declared ineligible for spring practice, though he might hold a few out occasionally to insist they finish their classwork.
"We've got to teach them to handle the grind of school and football, and right now that seems to be a little bit of an issue," he said. "We're going to get that straightened out."
• Teach. The Gophers have new schemes and terminology to learn, new instructions to follow, and a new philosophy -- aggressive and intense at all times -- to adopt.
• Pay attention to details, because many games are decided by the small things. Kill used the Gophers' punting team, whose 30.9-yard net average ranked last in major-college football, as an example. He's going to make the punting unit his own cause, he said, because "nobody ever thinks about the punt team, but ... if we improve that halfway, that's probably two more wins."
Not that he's willing to predict how many games the Gophers might win, or even that the team will be improved next fall.
"This is just the beginning of a journey," Kill said. "We're still taking baby steps."
|Los Angeles - LP: H. Ryu||4||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: H. Kuroda||6|
|Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman||13||FINAL|
|Detroit - LP: R. Porcello||3|
|Miami - LP: J. Fernandez||1||FINAL|
|Arizona - WP: D. Hernandez||3|
|San Diego - LP: L. Gregerson||2||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner||4|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Capuano||6||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - LP: P. Hughes||0|
|Washington - WP: D. Storen||6||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - LP: M. Stutes||2|
|Kansas City - LP: L. Mendoza||3||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: J. Masterson||6|
|Colorado - LP: J. Nicasio||2||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: M. Buehrle||5|
|NY Mets - LP: S. Marcum||3||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: K. Medlen||5|
|Pittsburgh - LP: V. Mazzaro||1||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: M. Parra||2|
|Tampa Bay - WP: J. Hellickson||6||FINAL|
|Boston - LP: R. Dempster||2|
|Oakland - LP: T. Milone||4||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: J. Grimm||9|
|Chicago WSox - LP: C. Sale||4||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: K. Correia||7|
|Milwaukee - WP: J. Axford||3||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: H. Ambriz||1|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson||1||FINAL|
|St. Louis - WP: J. Westbrook||4|
|Seattle - LP: J. Saunders||0||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: C. Wilson||1|
|Edmonton||6/21/13 9:00 PM|
|Montreal||6/27/13 8:00 PM|
|Hamilton||6/28/13 6:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||6/28/13 9:00 PM|
|Saskatchewan||6/29/13 2:30 PM|