Hartman: Gophers football team has faith in true freshmen

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2014 - 11:57 PM
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Gophers coach Jerry Kill, marching the sidelines during his team’s Aug. 9 scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium, says he will decide whether to redshirt true freshmen over the first month of the season, but there are some he has already decided will play.

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Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said that as his team gets ready for its season opener against Eastern Illinois on Thursday, there are a number of young players that fans should be acquainted with based on their performance toward the end of training camp.

One reason for the optimism of the Gophers coaching staff is the number of freshmen who are going to play. Those freshmen will give the roster the depth it needs if it loses key players to injury.

“The guys that have really done a good job that stood out that are younger, [defensive tackle] Steve Richardson, we’ve talked a lot about, but another young man, [defensive end] Andrew Stelter, has had an outstanding camp and did some really good things,” Kill said. “Gaelin Elmore … is doing some good things at defensive end. At linebacker, Jonathan Celestin had a real nice scrimmage and is going to be a young man that will play some ball for us this year.”

There has been a lot of discussion about the Gophers secondary this spring, and Kill said the depth there is helping more than just the pass defense.

“In the secondary, and we are really good in the secondary, we have a young guy named Craig James who had an outstanding camp; he’s going to do a lot for us on special teams and really stood out. Duke [Daletavius] McGhee, a young man we redshirted last year in the secondary, has been excellent. He’s going to do a lot of good things for us. We have a deep area there, and certainly a group that can help us with special teams.”

Offensive help

On offense, Kill said there have been a number of young standouts as well, but the team is still considering whether to redshirt some players or have them start the season with the team.

“Fullback-wise, Jared Hartman has done a great job for us and has looked good in camp, he had a nice scrimmage [last week],” Kill said. “Probably from there we have some young receivers still learning. We like what Jerry Gibson has done; he has played H-back but also spent a lot of time at inside receiver. Then a young back named Rodney Smith from Georgia has had an outstanding camp. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we do there. A lot of good things out of a lot of good, young people that should help us be better.”

Kill was asked when he will decide which true freshmen will play this season and which will sit out.

“We’re still going to do a lot of things against each other, and everybody in college football does that because they’re trying to make the same decisions,” said Kill, entering his fourth season as Gophers coach. “Some we’ll carry into the [first] game and, barring injury, we’ll try to redshirt them. But if somebody gets hurt, then we won’t be able to do that. After the fourth game we won’t do that to anybody unless there’s like an emergency, emergency.”

Kill did have a notion on which players would be playing, though.

“I don’t know for sure. Stelter, Richardson, Elmore, they’re not going to redshirt,” he said. “Celstin is not going to redshirt. Craig James is going to play. I’ll tell you a guy who has really had a good camp is Brandon Lingen from right here at Wayzata, a tight end, and he’s going to be one that is going to play. He’s done an outstanding job.

“We have several more we have to make a decision on over the next three days, and health issues on where we’re at on some things may help us make those decisions. There’s probably five or six more in that mix on what we’re going to do with them. There’s going to be some decisions that have to be made, and some will be sooner rather than later.”

Large group of seniors

While the Gophers are going to rely on a number of freshmen, Kill will also have one of the largest groups of seniors on his squad since his arrival.

“It looks like right around 22 there and maybe 25, because you have a couple guys that will graduate and want to move on with their lives,” Kill said. “So probably right around 25-26.”

Will that wipe Kill out for next season? “Nah,” he said. “I think we have some good depth, that’s why this recruiting class has been good. Right now I can’t say a whole lot about it, but recruiting is going — with the needs that we need right now — that’s going pretty good. You always have to replace players, that’s your job, and we’ll still have some guys that can step in, and we’ll have to pick up some defensive linemen, but we have five new ones there. Secondary-wise, we’ll have to pick up five or six, but we still have some good people there.

“We’ll need to build depth. Jeff Jones, a running back, certainly everybody knows Jeff and that helps us a bunch as we lose a couple running backs, and Rodney Smith and [Josh] Park, so we tried to make sure we got people coming in. We always try to keep recruiting and our job is to continue to recruit better, if we can.”

Sid's Jottings

The Vikings had a goal of selling $120 million in personal seat licenses, and they have gotten commitments for over $60 million with their goal a cinch to be reached because of the great interest in the new stadium.

Jimmy Shapiro out of Las Vegas reports that online sportsbook Bovada has Teddy Bridgewater at 12-1 odds to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, tied for sixth overall, and Anthony Barr is at 15-1 to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, which is tied for fifth. Former Gophers defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman of the Falcons is also on the list at 50-1.

With former Vikings coach Brad Childress in his second year as a Chiefs assistant coach, it’s interesting that he could look over on the Vikings side at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night and see only 11 players still on the team from when he was coach in 2010: Adrian Peterson, Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Jasper Brinkley, Chad Green­way, Jamarca Sanford, Marcus Sherels and Cullen Loeffler.

Very few recent Gophers players have made it to the NFL, with this year only Hageman (Falcons) and Brock Vereen (Bears) being drafted, but next year there are five Gophers on the NFL draft watch list: running back David Cobb, defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli, safety Cedric Thompson, linebacker Damien Wilson and cornerback Derrick Wells.

One reason three-star tackle Quinn Oseland — who had over 20 Division I scholarship offers, according to Rivals.com — picked the Gophers is because his coach, Ken Leonard of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, Ill., sent several players to Northern Illinois when Kill was there. The word is Leonard, who has coached there since 1984, was very influential in this highly recruited player committing to Minnesota.

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2014 season     
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