Philip Nelson guided the Gophers first-team offense on a precision-filled, 16-play touchdown drive to start Saturday’s scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium. And if that wasn’t enough to satisfy the 3,000 or so fans in attendance, two freshmen added some intrigue.
The first time running back Berkley Edwards touched the ball, he burst through a hole, made a cut and sprinted 70 yards for a touchdown, leaving sophomore defensive back Steven Montgomery in his dust.
Toward the end of the scrimmage, freshman quarterback Donovahn Jones made a highly anticipated move to wide receiver. The coaches let him run basic routes — straight up the field — and had quarterbacks Mitch Leidner and Connor Rhoda try to hit him deep.
Jones caught a 30-yard pass from Rhoda at one point, hanging on as he sustained a hit, but he was ruled out of bounds.
“Jones looked like he did some good things,” coach Jerry Kill said. “He’s still learning stuff [at quarterback], but he’s got some athletic ability. We had him catching kickoffs and punts, and we’ve got time to figure it all out.”
Nelson reaffirmed his status as the team’s starting quarterback, going 6-for-6 for 53 yards and a touchdown on the first two drives against the first-team defense.
He scrambled and then found Isaac Fruechte over the middle for 17 yards, converting a key third-down play on the first drive. He finished that one with a 3-yard touchdown pass to KJ Maye on fourth-and-goal.
“We did a really great job of mixing up the play calls, getting in the [shotgun formation], doing some play-action,” Nelson said. “That’s our coaching staff doing a great job of drawing up a great game plan for today, and that just excites me for the season.”
Leidner had a much tougher time moving the second-team offense, managing only one first down in the first five drives.
“I felt like we didn’t execute as well on the second group as well as we’d like to,” Leidner said. “But we’re just going to keep getting better, keep going forward.”
Edwards’ touchdown burst came against the third-team defense, made up of several other freshmen, but he showed off his sprinter’s speed. Later, the 5-9, 190-pounder took a short pass over the middle and darted for 7 yards after the catch.
“He also made some nice inside runs in there,” Kill said. “For not being a big guy, he stuck it in there pretty good.”
Added Nelson: “We’ve got a lot of backs who can really pound the ball. [Edwards is] a guy who, when he gets to the outside, he’s gone. It’s just a matter of catching him up to speed with the offense, and I think from there, he’ll just take off.”
Chris Streveler, who’s battling Jones for the No. 3 quarterback job, flashed some speed of his own with a 27-yard run that looked as if it could have gone for a touchdown. When Jones was at quarterback, he had one rush for 14 yards but threw an interception to freshman linebacker Chris Wipson.
• Offensive tackle Ed Olson missed the scrimmage because of the flu.
• Safety Brock Vereen (knee), cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder) and wide receiver Jamel Harbison (hamstring) were held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons.
• Defensive end Theiren Cockran sacked Nelson twice.