Kill expects Gophers football to be better in his fourth season

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2014 - 1:04 AM

The U’s win total has gone from three to five to eight under coach Jerry Kill.

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Minnesota Gophers vs. Syracuse Orange in Texas Bowl. Syracuse won 21-17. Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill looked a bit disgruntled as he paced the sideline late in the game. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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With a disappointing loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl fresh in their minds, Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and his assistants have spent recent days evaluating the 2013 season, searching for ways to improve this fall.

“We think we’ll be better,” Kill said Thursday. “I said that last year, and we were better [in 2013], and I think we’ll be better this year.”

Kill said the schedule will be tougher. Besides moving to the Big Ten West — along with Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin — the Gophers play crossover games against Ohio State and Michigan, and a nonconference game at Texas Christian.

The Gophers have improved from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 in Kill’s first three seasons.

“I’m not one that guarantees [a number of wins], but we’ll be better,” Kill said. “But our offseason’s got to be better, and our approach has got to be better. You’ve got to work harder.”

Still mum on QBs

Kill declined to discuss the team’s quarterback pecking order. Philip Nelson started nine games, including the final five, but struggled in the bowl loss before Mitch Leidner tossed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

“Our players, they need to come back [from winter break], and they need to be starving,” Kill said. “And I think they will be. You always want to talk about quarterbacks — they need to be starving. Somebody needs to [say], ‘Let’s go!’ ”

Kill also said, “We’ve got young quarterbacks, but the kid at Oklahoma [redshirt freshman Trevor Knight] — he’s a great example. He struggled and struggled and had a great bowl game, turned the corner. That’s what we need to do.”

Injury report

Kill is relieved that tight end Maxx Williams won’t need surgery after injuring his left knee in the last minute of the Syracuse game.

Among players scheduled for offseason surgery: cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder), wide receiver KJ Maye (groin), tackle Jonah Pirsig (hand), tight end Alex Bisch (ankle), fullback Tyler Hartmann (shoulder).

Cornerback Briean-Boddy Calhoun (knee surgery) will be ready for spring practice, but Kill said the team will be careful with him.

Center Jon Christenson (broken leg) is doing well with his rehab but won’t participate in spring practice.

Center Matt Leidner (quarterback Mitch Leidner’s younger brother) has a foot injury but should be ready for spring practice.

Spring practice moved

One early change in 2014 will come with spring practice. Camp opens March 4, with the spring game on April 12. Last year, it opened March 26, with the spring game on April 27.

This year, the team will hold two weeks of camp before spring break (March 17-21) and three weeks after the break. Kill said that will help simulate a bye week; there are two of those again this fall. And it will be a chance to test the players’ intensity after an elongated break, something teams deal with during bowl season.

The main benefit, Kill said, is that players will have two long strength-and-conditioning windows — one before and another after spring practice — as opposed to one.

Early enrollees coming

Two players from the 2014 recruiting class are scheduled to begin classes at the university this month, allowing them to compete in spring practice.

They are linebacker Cody Poock, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, and quarterback Dimonic McKinzy from Kansas City (Mo.) Wyandotte High School.

McKinzy, who committed last spring, will be the fourth quarterback to enroll early at Minnesota under Kill.

Nelson and Mitch Leidner did that in 2012, and Chris Streveler did it last year before redshirting.

Streveler, of Crystal Lake, Ill., had hand surgery during the season but should be ready for spring practice.

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