Injured Gophers return eager to get back in swing

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2012 - 7:05 AM
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Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood (right)

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

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With the help of the Gophers' athletic training staff, Donnell Kirkwood has figured out why he keeps straining his right hamstring.

"I put stress on my hamstring [because of] how I run," the sophomore running back said. "I run with my leg out [in front] instead of under my body, so I'm not aligned when I run. It's something I have to work on in the offseason. It's crucial because it's something that hinders me from making progress."

Still, he has improved, and on Thursday he shed his orange jersey and rejoined practice, albeit only for noncontact drills.

And he wasn't the only Gopher who was getting healthy. Foster Bush, recovering from offseason knee surgery, took part in practice with the offensive line, and freshman safety Steven Montgomery, who had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, rejoined the secondary.

"We'll be on the cautious side," said coach Jerry Kill, but he said there is benefit to getting the wounded back on the field even for part of spring ball. "Foster's been doing some things, but we just hadn't gone full tilt with him. And Montgomery, we don't know a lot about him, so we'd like to see him get reps. ... Each situation is a little different."

It is, but one thing is the same: They want to play. "I love to play football. It ain't no fun sitting on the sideline," said Kirkwood, who reinjured the same hamstring that has given him problems during both of his seasons in Minnesota early in spring ball. Kirkwood said it's unlikely that he will take part in contact scrimmages this spring, but "they just want me to kind of get back in a rhythm. Just individual [drills], timing with the quarterback, things that kind of get me back in a groove [from] what I missed being injured."

Victory gear

The offense wore white on Thursday and the defense maroon, a switch from the previous seven practices this spring. The reason?

Defense rules

It did on Tuesday, anyway, when the offense couldn't manage a single first down during a second-and-8 scrimmage. And for their success, defenders wore maroon at the next practice, the Gophers' version of victory gear.

Midterm report

Kill said the presence of nearly a dozen midterm enrollees has been "better than I ever would have expected. You look out there and look at the secondary, without those guys, where would [we] be?" That secondary has been boosted by the presence of junior-college transfers Martez Shabazz, Jeremy Baltazar and Briean Boddy. "The running back [James Gillum] has gotten better and better. The quarterbacks [Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson] have learned so much coming in. I don't think there's one youngster that hasn't done a little better than I thought."

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