THREE THINGS THE GOPHERS LEARNED
1Philip Nelson is the starting quarterback. But Mitch Leidner is a fully capable backup who can pass and run, making him another good fit for this offense. “It’s always going to be a competition; it’s been that way everywhere I’ve been,” coach Jerry Kill said Saturday. “Right now, it’s [Nelson’s] job. Somebody has to take it.”
2Their secondary remains a strength. This comes despite losing outgoing senior cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. Derrick Wells made the transition from safety to cornerback look easy. And despite getting beat on Logan Hutton’s touchdown catch Saturday, sophomore Eric Murray looks fully capable at the other corner.
3Ra’Shede Hageman is a beast. The defensive tackle decided against entering the NFL draft, and teammates say they’ve never seen the senior so focused. He will lead a line that should come at teams in waves, along with fellow starters Cameron Botticelli, Michael Afaefula, Theiren Cockran and a strong second string.
THREE QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN
1Are their linebackers good enough for the Big Ten? The coaches like returning starter Aaron Hill and think they’ll be OK at middle linebacker with Jack Lynn and Damien Wilson. But with James Manuel and Lamonte Edwards still inconsistent, the door is open for an incoming recruit such as De’Vondre Campbell or De’Niro Laster to start.
2Can they find more playmakers at wide receiver? Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte, Jamel Harbison and KJ Maye keep getting better, but Andre McDonald’s status is uncertain. The Gophers hope an incoming recruit such as Drew Wolitarsky, Eric Carter or Donovohn Jones can be a difference-maker at receiver.
3Can their offensive linemen stay healthy? Ed Olson (ankle surgery) and Zach Mottla (broken leg) missed spring camp. Jonah Pirsig (knee cap injury) and Brian Bobek (illness) were eventually sidelined. Jon Christenson played through an ankle injury. The Gophers like their offensive line depth, but it keeps getting tested.