Gophers football feels ahead of pace

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2013 - 12:08 AM

“We’re definitely ahead of where we were last spring ... the team has improved.”

hide

Gophers coach Jerry Kill got his players fired up last week during the first day of spring practice. Kill and the team seem very optimistic about the upcoming season.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER jwheeler@ startribune.com ,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Temperatures outside the Gophers’ indoor practice facility hovered in the 30s and 40s this week, but listening to running back Donnell Kirkwood, it seemed like mid-August.

After the team’s first spring practice Tuesday, Kirkwood marveled at how advanced the whole operation seemed.

“We’re definitely ahead of where we were last spring, and where we were in summer camp,” he said. “This kind of feels like the middle of summer camp almost, with how we’re running things. And I like it. The team has improved.”

The proof won’t come until the real games begin in five months, of course, but players and coaches exuded a certain confidence that they were picking up exactly where they hoped after their bowl game loss to Texas Tech.

Coach Jerry Kill entered camp raving about the progress his players had made in the team’s offseason conditioning program. He seemed genuinely pleased with the first three practices, too.

“We didn’t have to start from scratch, so to speak,” Kill said. “I mean we’ve got plenty of work to do, we know that, but we didn’t have anybody standing around.”

This is Kill’s third spring at the Gophers’ helm, and his staff noticed a pronounced difference in practices from Year 1 to Year 2, as the team’s record improved from 3-9 to 6-7.

Kill has a track record of delivering even greater improvement in Year 3. After going 5-18 in his first two seasons at Southern Illinois, the Salukis went 10-2 in 2003. And after going 13-13 in his first two seasons at Northern Illinois, the Huskies went 10-3 in 2010.

Few experts would predict the Gophers having that kind of success in the Big Ten this fall, but it’s not hard to picture Minnesota taking another step in the rebuilding process.

The Gophers have 10 starters returning on offense, including sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson. After sputtering for weeks, the offense came to life in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, only to lose 34-31.

“We know that game has taught us so much,” Nelson said. “And we know what we are capable of — being that great physical team that can also play-action pass.

“That’s what you’re seeing out here. We have an official offensive identity.”

The Gophers plan to continue running the ball with Kirkwood (958 yards last year) sophomore Rodrick Williams (267 yards) and incoming freshman Berkley Edwards. The receiving corps should get a boost with the return of Jamel Harbison, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in last year’s season opener against UNLV.

Defensively, the Gophers need to replace five starters, but senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman returned after considering a leap to the NFL. At 6-6, 313 pounds, the converted tight end recently bench pressed 465 pounds and posted a 37-inch vertical jump.

Hageman delivered the highlight of Saturday’s practice, the team’s first in full pads, when he exploded off the line and flattened offensive lineman Joe Bjorklund.

“I’m very proud of the fact [Hageman] took his offseason and made himself even better athletically, and he was pretty darn good athletically before that,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “He’s made himself better and developed himself into a leader.”

“We have not had a bell cow on defense,” Claeys added. “Even last year, Ra’Shede was still learning the game. He wasn’t truly a bell cow, and now, people are going to have to figure out what they can do to handle him.”

The Gophers also need to replace two starting linebackers and two starting cornerbacks, but Kill said he thinks they have the personnel to do it.

Junior college transfer Damien Wilson is off to a good start and will challenge redshirt freshman Jack Lynn for the starting middle linebacker job.

The Gophers also moved Derrick Wells from safety to cornerback, knowing they had other good safeties returning in Brock Vereen, Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson.

It didn’t take long for the battles between the first-team offense and first-team defense to emerge at full speed in spring practice. Kirkwood, a fourth-year junior, said the group is “more disciplined” and “more knowledgeable.”

What excites him most?

“How far we were along on just the first day of spring,” Kirkwood said. “It’s somewhat scary because I’ve never been a part of anything like this.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - C. Frias 2:10 PM
Colorado - J. De La Rosa
San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 2:40 PM
Arizona - A. Chafin
Boston - C. Buchholz 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - F. Liriano
Toronto - J. Happ 6:05 PM
Baltimore - B. Norris
Washington - B. Treinen 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Wood
Miami - H. Alvarez 6:10 PM
NY Mets - D. Gee
NY Yankees - B. McCarthy 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - A. Cobb
Cincinnati - D. Corcino 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks
Chicago WSox - C. Sale 7:10 PM
Kansas City - Y. Ventura
Cleveland - C. Carrasco 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Oberholtzer
Detroit - D. Price 7:10 PM
Minnesota - K. Gibson
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 7:15 PM
St. Louis - A. Wainwright
Seattle - J. Paxton 9:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Wilson
Texas - D. Holland 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
Philadelphia - C. Hamels 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
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