Hartman: Kill encouraged as Gophers begin practice

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2014 - 1:21 AM

The football coach believes his team is bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago.

When Gophers football coach Jerry Kill was hired in 2010, the team started their motto of building a winner “brick by brick.” Now Kill, entering his fourth season, said the team has made progress each year with that motto and believes that will continue as practice for the 2014 season opens Friday.

Kill said he’s never felt better about the team.

“Well, I think it’s a deal where our kids’ preparation has been great,” he said. “I think our leadership with [defensive back] Cedric Thompson and [quarterback] Mitch Leidner, they have done a great job this summer. Our kids have worked their tails off. There’s a difference between last summer and this summer. Now that doesn’t guarantee wins — our schedule is very difficult — but I feel good about it because it has been different this summer because of leadership. This is the best leadership we’ve had.”

Do the Gophers have better talent?

“I think we do,” Kill said. “I think our kids are bigger, stronger and faster than we were a year ago. Certainly you don’t replace guys like [defensive tackle] Ra’Shede Hageman and [defensive back] Brock Vereen, but we also have a lot of people back, [including linebacker] Aaron Hill. We have a lot of people back. You fix those problems by having more people. We’re very talented in the secondary, and defensive line we have to have a couple young guys step up inside.”

Kill talked about some of those defensive linemen.

Yoshoub Timms, Harold Legania, of course [Cameron] Botticelli and Scott Ekpe will be our starters. They played last year a bunch,” Kill said. “… Timms is a guy that really needs to step up, and Harold Legania, off the top of my mind. Then we may have some freshmen who need to stick their nose in there a little bit.”

Kill said with losses such as Hageman and Vereen, you don’t just fill the roster spot with one guy.

“You don’t ever replace great players,” he said. “But it’s our job to put somebody in position to make up for it, and if we can get a couple guys to take place of one, sometimes you can do that. The biggest thing with Brock Vereen is he’s a great kid — he may start for the Bears — but we have some pretty good secondary players right now.

“I think it will be very good. I think we have one of the better secondaries around right now. I know other people don’t give us credit for that and so forth, but I have been coaching awhile and athletically and physically and depth, we’re in good shape there.”

One thing giving Kill a lot of confidence is having a settled quarterback situation, which helps the team prepare.

“When you know who is going to be the guy and everybody knows who the backup is right now and where we’re at, I think that’s important,” Kill said. “If we have an injury we can adjust to that, but right now I think it has been a real plus for us.”

Kill talked about some of the injured players and their progress.

“I have looked over the list and we have to be careful,” he said. “[Offensive lineman] Jon Christenson [broken leg] is going to come to camp and we have to be careful with him, but it’s exciting that he’s coming to camp. Cody Poock, our linebacker that we’ve had that is coming off of ACL, we’ll bring him into camp. We won’t have him do any contact. I don’t think he’ll be ready for the first game, but I want him in there to learn when we’re not having contact, I think it’s important. He’ll be in camp, we will not play him in the first game.

“[Wide receiver] Conner Krizancic, a young freshman, has had some hamstring problems and we’re trying to figure out exactly what we’ll do with him. A talented kid, but we need to be careful there. [Offensive lineman] Ernie Heifort will be late getting into camp, he had an accident on his moped. But other than that, we’ll start camp in that shape.”

Kill was asked about redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards, a speedster whom Kill has been excited about since he got to campus last year.

“Berkley Edwards is a kid that is athletic, had a good spring,” Kill said. “We have to find some ways to get him the football, and we’re excited about giving him those opportunities, but there’s no question that he could be a good help for us.”

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