Hartman: Gophers football makes progress despite weather

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2013 - 12:10 AM

The football team hasn’t been able to practice outside, but good competition for spots has kept intensity high.

The Gophers were scheduled to scrimmage Wednesday night in TCF Bank Stadium as part of the eighth day of spring football practice, but they cancelled it because of snow in the forecast and replaced it with a practice Thursday.

However, coach Jerry Kill said bad weather this month hasn’t prevented the team from showing a lot of improvement even though they haven’t practiced outside.

“[The weather] hasn’t been real cooperative but it hasn’t deterred what we’re trying to get done, we’ve just stayed indoors,” Kill said. “We’ve been able to get everything we needed to get done. I think the weather is pretty much like that everywhere.

“We had Butch Jones in from the University of Tennessee at our state high school clinic, and they’ve only gotten out a couple of times this spring. So I don’t think we’re the only ones dealing with a weather situation.

“I think the whole group has improved themselves. They’re working better together. We still have a lot of work to do, but I see a lot of good things out of the young people.”

Kill makes sure the players are fully prepared for practice before they leave the locker room.

“When we meet as a team before we go out to practice, I tell them what we expect,” he said. “I show them the pace, show them how we’re going to practice . We call it ‘The Daily News’; we show them clips of the practice before, the good things they did and the things they need to improve.”

Competition important

Many starting positions are up for grabs, which Kill believes can be a positive thing.

“I think competition is always good, and from the secondary to the offensive line, it’s not only competition for us as coaches, it’s building depth. We need as much depth as you can have, because the bottom line is the good teams in the Big Ten [are] going to have some depth. And you have to grow older.

“We were talking about it yesterday. It’s hard to play offensive linemen in the Big Ten until you’re a junior or senior, because of the physicality. You look at Wisconsin and most of their kids that are playing are juniors and seniors most of the time. Our kids, somebody asked me, ‘What do you need to do, coach?’ We just need to get older. We need to mature and get stronger and just get older.”

The other day, a bunch of kids were attending practice that Kill had coached before and had attended practices at other colleges Kill had been. Kill said they were impressed what they saw from the Gophers in spring practice.

“They said, ‘Man, Coach, it looks like to me the kids are on track, practicing with good intensity, gamelike intensity,’ ” Kill said. “I think the intensity of the workouts has certainly been good. I think we continue as a coaching staff to learn, you always do, a better way to teach. At the end of the day, we have to get our players to respond and play to the best of their ability. I think we’ve become better teachers through some work of our own.”

There’s no doubt the coaches, on the basis of the showing of the players in spring practice, expect a much improved football team this fall.

Jottings

• University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s moratorium on all gifts to the school, including a potential one to the Gophers athletic department by alum T. Denny Sanford of Sanford Medical, is a blow to fundraising. The athletic department was working on Sanford for a large gift. … New Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino will spend his first day in his office Thursday at the Bierman Building after arriving here late Wednesday.

• Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio has entered the NBA’s statistical leaders, after reaching the per-game totals needed for steals and assists. Going into Wednesday’s games, Rubio was second in the league in steals at 2.4 per game, trailing only Clippers star Chris Paul at 2.43, and he was tied for sixth in assists at 7.5 per game. Rubio is one of only four NBA players to rank in the top 10 in those two categories. The other three players make for some esteemed company — Paul, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

• Former Cretin-Derham Hall lineman Ryan Harris has re-signed with the Houston Texans on a one-year contract. He shared the right tackle spot with Derek Newton last season, but Harris will get plenty of work during organized team activities while Newton recovers from knee surgery.

• Former Twins great Torii Hunter, now with the Detroit Tigers, became only the 14th active player to reach 2,000 hits this week. It wasn’t lost on Hunter how big the accomplishment is, especially considering he’s known more for his fielding than his hitting. “It’s an honor,” Hunter told the Detroit Free Press. “I was always known for my defense. You gotta stay healthy to get 2,000 hits, come ready to play every day. For me to be around this long and [get] 2,000 hits, I’m very thankful.”

•  Yale will face off against UMass Lowell in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh on Thursday. One of Yale’s best defensemen is former Armstrong standout Tommy Fallen. The sophomore is fourth on the Bulldogs in scoring with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists), leading all of the team’s defensemen. … In the other Frozen Four semifinal, St. Cloud State will go up against former White Bear Lake standout and Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell, the senior goaltender for Quinnipiac. Hartzell was perhaps the best collegiate goaltender this season, posting a 1.55 goals-against average in 40 games. One of the main stars for the Huskies who will be trying to score against Hartzell is Drew LeBlanc, who also is one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. LeBlanc, a native of Hermantown, Minn., led St. Cloud State with 50 points (and a nation-leading 37 assists) this season in 41 games.

•  Twins prospect Chris Colabello was named the International League’s player of the week after a stellar start for the Rochester Red Wings. The first baseman is hitting .455 with three home runs, four RBI and seven runs scored in six games.

• Gophers basketball player Wally Ellenson, an outstanding high jumper who cleared 7-1 in high school, will join the Gophers track team on their trip to Arkansas this weekend. … Mike Valesano of Brainerd, a starting linebacker for St. Thomas, has joined the Gophers football coaching staff as an intern.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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