Little is certain as spring football kicks off

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2012 - 7:34 AM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill will hold the first of 15 spring practices Thursday, hoping to sort out who he can count on this fall and who he can't.

There's only so much a coach can learn during spring football practice. Some players still are healing, most freshmen haven't arrived, and scrimmaging with teammates months before the season opener comes nowhere close to replicating the intensity of a fall football Saturday.

But that doesn't mean the process of finding answers to nagging questions can't begin.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill will hold the first of 15 spring practices Thursday, hoping to sort out who he can count on this fall and who he can't. A few of his priorities:

1 MarQueis Gray is the quarterback, right?

Well, sort of. Kill was definitive that the senior incumbent is his presumed starter -- but he made it clear that "there's competition" for the job.

"If there are three guys back there and somebody outperforms them," Kill said, "you're going to play the best player."

It seems unlikely Kill would demote a player who accounted for 2,461 yards last season (including 966 on the ground, more than any Big Ten quarterback except Michigan's Denard Robinson). "I'm looking forward to seeing his progression, I really am," the coach said.

But the competition for places in line behind Gray might be the most intriguing of camp. Max Shortell earned snaps in eight games as a true freshman, and now he's got a couple more precocious freshmen to hold off. Kill said Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson, each of whom enrolled in January, "have done an outstanding job in the off-season. ... At quarterback, we have recruited very well. I feel comfortable with that."

2 So who will carry the ball, besides Gray?

No returning running back carried the ball more than 63 times last year, so this might be the most wide-open job on the roster, especially considering Kill's run-first inclinations. Donnell Kirkwood is the nominal incumbent, but Kill on Wednesday was touting sophomore David Cobb's progress in the weight room -- he's up to 220 pounds and is healthy again, after his freshman season was disrupted by a hamstring injury. Then there's James Gillum, who gained more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"You don't bring in a junior-college tailback to stand beside Coach Kill on Saturdays," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "We feel he's an SEC-caliber back. The best ones are the ones who you can hand the ball to and you don't have to tell him where the holes are, and that's James."

3 Is there a middle linebacker?

Not an obvious one, yet. Gary Tinsley handled the great majority of snaps last year, and led the Gophers in sacks with four, but he was a senior. Junior Aaron Hill is in line for the job, but a young player could step in, too. Keep an eye on Jephte Matilus and Peter Westerhaus, each a redshirt freshman, to challenge Hill.

4 Will anybody make an impact on the defense?

Tenth in sacks (19), 12th in interceptions and turnover ratio, the Gophers are begging for someone to make big drive-killing plays. Their best bets may be the development of defensive ends Ben Perry and Michael Amaefula, but moving Brock Vereen to safety and James Manuel to weakside linebacker should juice up their speed. And senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire, returning from a broken arm, suggests another candidate: Himself.

"I'm very, very, very excited to get back out there and make plays," he said. "I want to make something happen."

5 So are these guys going to be any good?

The players say they see evidence of a turnaround, that Kill and his staff have provided stability and a discernible blueprint for success. Attitudes and work ethic, according to senior linebacker Mike Rallis, are greatly improved, though he admits that skeptics have no reason to believe anything but the 3-9 record at the moment.

"The fans [have] heard it for a lot of years, that this year is going to be different, [that] this is the year," Rallis said. "There's not too much I can say to them other than, come season time, we'll be ready to go."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 7 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 1
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 85 FINAL
Miami 90
Indiana 89 FINAL
Minnesota 107
Utah 105 FINAL
Oklahoma City 91
Portland 93 FINAL
Denver 75
Phoenix 114 FINAL
LA Lakers 108
LA Clippers 107 FINAL
Golden State 125
San Jose 3 FINAL
Boston 5
NY Rangers 4 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 3
Toronto 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Detroit 1 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 2
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 4
Carolina 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Dallas 6
Florida 4 FINAL(OT)
Colorado 3
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(OT)
Calgary 1
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close