Spring football replay: What the Gophers learned (and questions that remain)

  • Article by: HOWARD SINKER
  • Updated: April 13, 2014 - 8:31 AM
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Quarterback Mitch Leidner, right, handed off to running back Rodrick Williams. ] Minnesota Gophers Spring football scrimmage. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com)

Photo: Marlin Levison, DML - Star Tribune

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Three things the Gophers learned

Their running game remains a major strength. David Cobb saved this team last year, rushing for 1,202 yards after Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams and Berkley Edwards suffered injuries. Now, all four of those players are back healthy, running behind an even more experienced offensive line.

Their secondary will lead the defense. Brock Vereen is headed for the NFL, but this unit looked superb all spring. Eric Murray has become a shut-down cornerback, Briean Boddy-Calhoun is back in form after tearing an ACL last fall. Derrick Wells is due back from his shoulder injury in August, and the safeties — Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson, Damarius Travis, etc. — keep getting better.

The linebackers holes can be filled. They lost two starters — James Manuel and Aaron Hill — to graduation, and probable starter Cody Poock tore an ACL this spring. But Jack Lynn moved to outside linebacker, joining Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell on the first unit, and the defense didn’t miss a beat. If Rayfield Dixon continues developing, that will help the depth.

Three questions that remain

How quickly can Mitch Leidner learn on the job? Philip Nelson has transferred to Rutgers, and Leidner is the only quarterback on the roster who’s taken a college snap. Leidner is a redshirt sophomore who has started just four career games. It might take him a while to gain game-to-game consistency.

Will the wide receivers get better? Sophomore Drew Wolitarsky seems poised to replace departing senior Derrick Engel as the team’s go-to wide receiver. Fellow sophomore Donovahn Jones is still learning the position after converting from quarterback. KJ Maye was healthy this spring, and that helped, but this position remains the team’s biggest concern.

Can the team get healthy? Coach Jerry Kill has said the only player who won’t be ready for the start of summer practice (Aug. 1) is Poock, who still hopes to play October. But tight end Maxx Williams (knee injury), defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms (hamstring) and defensive end Hank Ekpe (virus) were among those who missed most of spring camp.

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