Lamonte Edwards' pass-rushing days apparently aren't over.
The Gophers freshman tailback, given a cameo at defensive end during the season opener at Southern California, is practicing this week with the linebackers, an "experiment," coach Jerry Kill said, that isn't necessarily permanent.
"Doesn't mean he won't still play some offense, but we are thin" at linebacker, Kill said. "We are going to see how it goes, and see how he picks it up."
Edwards hasn't had much luck carrying the ball this season, picking up 11 yards on eight carries. His short-yardage role was handled Saturday by Donnell Kirkwood, who gained 55 yards on 13 carries, the most yardage by any Gophers running back this season.
The emergence of Kirkwood, who sat out the first two games while he worked on blocking and mastering the playbook, enabled the Gophers to address their linebacking corps, which has been thinned by injuries to Aaron Hill and Brendan Beal.
"It's a luxury. [Kirkwood's progress] is something that affords you to do that," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "Not just Kirkwood, but [freshman] Devon Wright is really starting to pick things up."
Edwards, a redshirt freshman from Woodbury High School, has the skill set for defense, too, Limegrover said.
"His athletic ability, his hitting ability, his speed out there -- it made sense to try him out at linebacker," Limegrover said. "Coach felt that Lamonte is too good an athlete to be standing over there as one of four running backs. He felt [Edwards] might have a chance, if he can get things down, to distinguish himself as a linebacker."
It's not just Kill's opinion, either. Former Woodbury coach Beau LaBore "has been calling [defensive coordinator Tracy] Claeys since we've been here and said that's the side of the ball he needed to be on in the first place," Kill said. "Doesn't mean he won't come in and play on the goal line. But we are dealt the cards we have, and we are going to try to utilize all those cards."
Change in approach
After two losses, Gophers coaches decided that "we tried to be something that we can't be here right now," Kill said. "It's not about what you do. It's how you execute it."
And to that end, Limegrover and Kill said, the coaching staff shifted their emphasis -- at least last week against Miami (Ohio) -- from passing downfield to setting up short passes, in order to give quarterback MarQueis Gray more confidence. Gray completed six of seven passes in the first quarter, enjoying his best game of the season so far.
"The first two games were difficult because he was still processing," Kill said.
By simplifying some things, Gray got into a rhythm that eventually produced 163 passing yards and no interceptions.
"It's all about finding the best spots to put your kids," Limegrover said. "There are things he does real well. So it's my job, and [quarterback coach Jim Zebrowski's] job and the rest of the coaches to say, 'OK, let's make sure we're not asking him to do stuff he can't and pound him down. Let's have him do the things he's good at."