Hartman: Kill sees good things in U's spring practices

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 12:21 AM

Defensive back Damarius Travis and tight end Nate Wozniak stood out as emerging players this week.

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The University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill spoke to the media during a press conference on campus regarding his big raise, and spring football, Monday, February 24, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN. (ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE) ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com

The Gophers football team is now on spring break. It will resume practice Tuesday and keep going until the spring game April 12, when school is back in session.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill says he was pleased with the amount of knowledge his players were able to absorb in their first week of spring practice, which ended last Thursday.

“Well, I really feel good about it,” Kill said. “I think the kids really worked hard, and I think we got a lot accomplished in a short period of time. We installed most of our offense and defense so it gives us the opportunity, when we come back for spring ball, to work on execution and repetitions and go over and over it again, so it becomes a good habit. I feel good about it. We have a few guys that need to get healed up and be ready to go back at it here in about a week.”

There were a few players who Kill said stood out through the first week.

“I think Damarius Travis has really stood out. I can tell he’s a much improved football player,” said Kill about the junior defensive back from Pensacola, Fla. “He was already a good one, but he’s had a great five, six days of practice and you can’t recruit one like that. He’s really come on in the secondary. He’s definitely stood out. Our other guys have done a good job, but he’s made a lot of progress, and I’m pleased with that.”

On offense, Kill said: “I think a guy that has really done good is [redshirt freshman Nate] Wozniak, the big tight end that’s about 6-9, 6-10 and 255, 260. He’s showed me a lot catching the ball, running with it, he’s a physical blocker. Those two guys, we have a lot of guys that have done really well, but those two guys have really stood out. Our backs, our quarterbacks have done a really good job, but those two guys come to mind as we speak.”

How about the overall health of the team after the practice?

“We have a few guys banged up,” Kill said. “[Redshirt sophomore tight end] Maxx Williams we have to be very careful with, and we will because we know what he can do; [sophomore wide receiver] Donovahn Jones got banged up about the fourth practice in, I look for him to be back after the break. Hopefully we’ll pick up a couple other guys [who haven’t played yet]. Even the ones, like [redshirt junior center] Jon Christenson, who went through a very serious [left leg] injury, it’s amazing what he’s doing right now.

“The most important thing is when we come to [fall] camp on August 1st, [spring practice] is a byproduct of getting better, but the most important thing is staying healthy and be ready when August 1st comes around.”

Kill was asked about redshirt junior center Brian Bobek, the transfer from Ohio State who has been on the injured list.

“He’s back in action,” Kill said. “His offseason was really good, but he hurt a hamstring. He’s done some good things. We just need to get him back in there and get him a lot of repetition. He’s overcome a lot of adversity and I’m really hoping for that young man to have some success.”

Kill also said he’s excited about the break in spring practice, which will give him the chance to be involved with an important epilepsy event.

“I’m going to fly to Washington, D.C., and do the walk for epilepsy and then Upsher-Smith, a pharmaceutical company in the Twin Cities, is going to have all their people out there and I’m going to get an opportunity to speak and support all the people that have epilepsy,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be helpful and fly back and go to spring ball. It’s exciting times for all of us and we look forward to doing that and getting back to spring ball and pushing forward.”

Jottings

• There’s a strong indication that Jared Allen will join a long line of former Vikings to end up playing with the Seattle Seahawks. ESPN reported Wednesday that with the Cowboys signing defensive tackle Henry Melton, Seattle might be the only option for Allen. He visited the Seahawks and Cowboys last weekend. The other option, which still remains on the table, is that Allen might retire following a 10-year career.

• Twins President Dave St. Peter, who just returned from spring training, was asked if former Twins manager Tom Kelly is still working with players in Fort Myers, Fla. “He’s been working vigorously with a lot of different guys, but I witnessed first-hand for about 10 days him working with Joe Mauer over at first base over on the back field,” St. Peter said. “So I know Joe, just like guys previous to him, Justin Morneau and going back to Kent Hrbek, all will tell you Tom Kelly had as great of knowledge on how to play first base as maybe anybody you’re going to find. I think we’re in pretty good hands, and I’m pretty confident Joe Mauer is going to take to that and be a very, very solid first baseman.”

• The Gophers baseball team will not play a home game until March 26. Having the Metrodome no longer available is a big deficit for the team, but they will have a home indoor field for early-season games at the new Vikings stadium.

• Tyler Nanne, one of the stars in Edina’s march to the Class 2A boys’ hockey title, has joined his cousin, Louis Nanne, with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League. Tyler has two assists in two games, and Louis has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 31 games. Tyler has committed to Ohio State, and Louis, who originally was going to Minn-esota, has decided to attend RPI.

• After signing a five-year, $36.25 million contract with the New York Jets, former Gophers receiver Eric Decker told the media that he’s ready to prove he’s more than just a product of Peyton Manning’s great quarterback play. “Did he help? Of course he helped,” said Decker. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, but I think I’m also a good football player and I think my skill set and my assets will help the team win football games.” Decker and his wife, country singer Jessie James, had their first child, daughter Vivianne, on Tuesday.

• The U.S Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association honored Gophers senior thrower Jon Lehman as the 2014 USTFCCA Midwest Region Field Athlete of the Year after four track meet wins this year — the Snowshoe Open, the Bill Bergan Invitational, the Iowa State Classic and the Northwest Open. The Coon Rapids native set a school record of 22.98 meters (75.39 feet) in the weight throw at the Snowshoe Open, which ranks third in the NCAA this year.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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