The genesis of the latest example -- Lamonte Edwards' cameo on the defensive line -- was a brainstorming session among defensive coaches last week, trying to invent new ways to harass USC quarterback Matt Barkley. But the whole notion of borrowing players from one position in order to shore up another?
"Oh, we've been doing that forever," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "We've always had to work with a limited number of assets, so you have to be creative about getting the most out of them."
That sort of improvisation is intended to catch the opposition by surprise, not the Gophers themselves. And after Saturday's experience, the players likely understand better how serious Jerry Kill and his staff are about versatility.
Edwards (6-2, 210), a tailback with more QB hurries than rushing yards at the moment, sure does.
"They called me over, and I'm on the sideline," the redshirt freshman said. "... Two days prior, they talked to me about it. I though it was like, 'OK, we might do this.' I didn't think they'd follow through with it."
They did it with more than just Edwards, actually. On a short-yardage situation, Claeys inserted senior linebacker Patrick Sveum at defensive end, figuring his size would be another malleable asset.
"He helps us on the heavy stuff, because he's a big, mobile guy," Claeys said of the Rochester Century graduate. "We're trying to fill roles."
Those shifting roles could even include quarterback MarQueis Gray being asked to catch an occasional pass, as he did all last season as a full-time wide receiver.
"I'm not saying we won't sometime. I'm not going to lie to anybody, we might," Kill said, though he emphasized that the Gophers' focus right now is making Gray more comfortable taking snaps.
Edwards got only one carry backing up starter Duane Bennett, and was stopped for no gain. But he enjoyed his new responsibility, too, he said, partly because it's not really so new at all. He played both sides of the ball at Woodbury High, and Claeys talked to his prep coaches about how well he would adapt. They were encouraging, so Claeys, who had a similar designated speed-up-the-pass-rush two-way player at Northern Illinois, and defensive line coach Jeff Phelps took the idea to Edwards, though he never actually practiced rushing the quarterback last week.
"We're not asking him to do a whole lot, just line up and go get" the quarterback, Claeys said. "He's a fast guy, and we've just got to generate more pressure on the quarterback. I'd like to get him a few more reps [in practice] this week, because he's good at it."
Edwards rushed Barkley twice, both on plays where there was little chance of the Trojans running the ball.
"I told Coach Phelps the two things I worry about is, does he line up offsides, and will he jump on a hard count," Claeys said. "When you watch him run the ball, he's got such a great burst, I thought he's someone who could help. Because we've got to create more pressure."
The freshman did. On his first snap, Edwards quickly romped into the backfield, and he believed he was about to record his first college sack. Barkley responded by dumping off the ball on a screen pass that fell incomplete.
"I like to believe I pressured him into throwing a bad pass," Edwards said. "It was fun."
But it's still his second choice. Kill said Edwards will stay in the backfield.
"We need to get him the darn ball on offense a little bit," the coach said -- which is his choice, too.
"I'm an offensive guy. I love running the ball," Edwards said. "I feel like I'm more effective on the offensive side. ... [But] I'll do whatever to help the team be successful."