The Gophers football team held another bye-week practice Wednesday, but it wasn't easy -- a lot of the usual participants were missing.
No, not players. Coaches.
"We've got the seven [coaches] on the road that we can have" at one time, coach Jerry Kill said of the Gophers' midseason recruiting efforts. That left Kill, his coordinators and the team's graduate assistants to run a back-to-the-fundamentals practice in which "we worked very hard. Not very long, but very intense."
For the first time in more than three weeks, cornerback Martez Shabazz was on the field, trying to work his way back into shape after suffering a dislocated toe. And safety Brock Vereen, limited to pass coverage last Saturday at Iowa because of a minor knee injury, returned to action as well.
"Yes, and that's a good thing for us. [Vereen] is back to full tilt, and Shabazz is back moving around, so that's a plus," Kill said. Adding depth to the secondary, and allowing Vereen to move up to help cover the run, will be important for the Gophers' next game, Oct. 13 against Northwestern.
"It would certainly help us. [The secondary] was a problem at Iowa," where the Gophers suffered their first loss of the season, 31-13 on Saturday, Kill said. "Everybody keeps talking about [problems] up front, but ... when you're trying to stop the run, you've got to have the eighth guy in the box, and you've got to play well. We didn't play as well at safety as we had been."
Gray still not practicing
One injury situation that hasn't changed is the one that draws the most attention. Quarterback MarQueis Gray didn't take part in practice Wednesday, and still can't run, Kill said.
"He's not as far along as we expected him to be," the coach said of the senior, who was injured during the second quarter against Western Michigan on Sept. 15.
There are 10 days remaining until the Gophers play again, but until Gray shows progress and can get some practice time, the coach is preparing as though sophomore Max Shortell will get his third consecutive start.
"Until [Gray] takes a rep, there's not much encouraging. He can't run full speed," Kill said. "He's not going through pass-shell [drills] or any of those kind of things."
Punter turned tackler
Punters and kickers don't practice tackling, not like their teammates do. They learn about getting leverage on a ball-carrier and do drills to work on technique.
"But you don't go putting them in a tackling drill against a running back or something," Kill said. "There's ways you can talk to them and teach them without having them go knock the heck out of somebody."
Which makes it all the more impressive when they do. Christian Eldred, the sophomore punter from Australia, made the first tackle of his career Saturday when Iowa punt returner Micah Hyde started on the right, then cut up the middle and got past the Gophers' coverage near midfield. He had open field ahead of him -- until he was suddenly slammed to the ground by the punter.
"He's probably played rugby football," Kill said of Eldred's tackle.
So was the coach suitably impressed? "No, I was depressed," Kill joked. "[Hyde] never should have got that far."