Hartman: Improved offense key for Gophers football to build upon last year

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2014 - 12:24 AM
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Mitch Leidner advanced the ball on a quarterback keeper during Saturday’s spring game at TCF Bank Stadium. Leidner completed seven of 14 passes for 74 yards and threw an interception in the Gophers’ final practice before reconvening late this summer.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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When Gophers football started spring practice, Jerry Kill was asked where the team needed to improve the most. The coach replied that the offense had to get a lot better if the team was to improve on its 8-6 record from a year ago.

Regarding that offense, Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the team has taken a lot of steps toward improvement. However, the offense didn’t get a test in Saturday’s spring game, as the Gophers’ top six defensive linemen were held out because of injuries. But the defensive reserves did a good job holding the offense to one touchdown in 13 drives, the one TD a 33-yard run by Berkley Edwards.

“The quarterback play is definitely settling down and getting a lot better,” Limegrover said last week. “We’re a year older in the offensive line. Our receivers are really starting to come together. I think it’s a nice combination, and Coach has given us a nice opportunity to really work on some things this spring and we’ve definitely taken advantage of it.”

Regarding the quarterbacks, Kill not only agrees that they have improved, but he believes that with the combination of starter Mitch Leidner, redshirt freshman Chris Streveler and true freshman Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, the Gophers have put the quarterback corps in the best situation since this present staff took over.

However Limegrover, while agreeing with Kill about the improvement at the quarterback position, said: “We have to be able to throw the ball better. That’s not just quarterback, that’s not just wide receivers, all of that has a lot to do with protection and making the right calls at the right time. We’re all in it together and we’re making that a priority, and I think the kids are really responding well to that.”

Leidner completed seven of 14 passes for 74 yards with an interception Saturday. Streveler was 4-for-5 for 44 yards, and Roden-McKinzy was 5-for-6 for 46 yards.

Wide receiver was a weakness last year, especially after Derrick Engel got hurt against Penn State on Nov. 9. Limegrover was asked if the present group of receivers can contribute more this season than last.

“Absolutely, and I think that will be a huge issue and the young guys getting a chance to work with Mitch a lot: Drew Wolitarsky, Donovahn Jones, KJ Maye is back healthy, Eric Carter is a young guy who redshirted last year who has really come on this spring,” Limegrover said. “We feel like we’re bringing in some quality depth, and we’ve got three kids coming in, Isaiah Gentry, Melvin Holland and Conner Krizancic, those three young men are really going to provide some depth. We feel like we’ve upgraded in a big way.”

The offensive line was the strength of the team last year, and Limegrover believes that won’t change.

“Competition makes it better and that’s the great thing about it. Right now I probably have nine guys who could start games for us, and I wouldn’t feel bad about that,” he said. “That’s pretty exciting as far as depth goes, but it’s also competition, and that’s what is making them better every day.

“Last year we had Ben Lauer work some with Ed Olson at the left tackle spot and I kind of liked that, because it allowed both of those guys to get about 35-36 plays a game, and they were fresh. We may even do that a little bit this year, as well.”

And Limegrover added that a couple of redshirt sophomore offensive linemen, Jonah Pirsig and Isaac Hayes, are having a good spring.

Future U basketball players

The Gophers men’s basketball team has three signees for next season in 6-8 forward Josh Martin, 5-11 guard Nate Mason and 6-4 guard Carlos Morris.

Martin, who plays for Bothell High School in Washington, was named the King County Class 4A Player of the Year by the Seattle Times and was also named Associated Press first-team all-state after averaging 27.2 points per game. He also had offers from California, Florida State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State.

Mason attended Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Fla., splitting time between point guard and shooting guard and averaging 16.8 points per game. He took three official visits, to the Gophers, Kansas State and Virginia, and also had offers from such schools as Creighton, Harvard, Memphis and Southern Methodist.

Morris is a junior college transfer from Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., who averaged 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Chipola made it to the National Junior College Championships before losing to Jones County. Morris also had offers from Alabama-Birmingham, Arkansas and DePaul.

Sid's Jottings

The Newark Star Ledger ran a story last week on former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, who transferred to Rutgers, naming him as possibly the best QB on the Scarlet Knights roster. But Nelson is ineligible to play this year because of transfer rules. “I didn’t think it was going to be this tough,” Nelson said. “Seven practices in right now, I’m champing at the bit. I’m not really taking any team reps or anything like that, but I knew what I was getting into [when I transferred].”

Tanner Vavra, the son of Twins third base coach Joe Vavra, is off to a nice start at Class A Cedar Rapids in the Twins organization, hitting .500 over three games with two doubles. … Two former Gophers are playing for the Twins at Class AA New Britain. Catcher Kyle Knudson is hitting .333 with three RBI in four games, and right fielder Mike Kvasnicka is hitting .182 over seven games. … Former Chaska High School standout Brad Hand is back with the Miami Marlins and has a 3.24 ERA with seven strikeouts in eight innings. Hand had two relief appearances but started Wednesday and is set to start again Monday. … Former Rochester Century pitcher Mitch Brown, a second-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2013, is at Class A Lake County and has made one start, giving up one run in 4⅔ innings.

The Twins sent 2013 Opening Day starter Vance Worley to the Pittsburgh Pirates for cash, but the righthander has yet to make an appearance with the organization. He is at extended spring training trying to get his arm ready, and once ready he will start at Class AAA Indianapolis.

Former Gophers interim men’s basketball coach Jim Molinari resigned as Western Illinois coach on Thursday and then signed on to be an assistant coach under Tim Miles at Nebraska on Friday. Molinari went 79-104 in six seasons with the Leathernecks, including 10-20 this season.

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