The Gophers opened spring practice March 3, so there was a lot to see before Saturday's spring game. I wrapped up the coverage with a look at what the team learned and what questions remained. This ran in the Sunday paper but didn't run online, so I am re-purposing it here.
Three things the Gophers learned
1. The no-huddle could work for them.
The players have quickly grown used to checking the sideline for the signal and running plays without huddling. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Gophers look adept enough at it already to make it an in-season strategy option.
2. Jeff Jones looks like a go-to receiver.
The highly touted running back recruit from Minneapolis Washburn has thrived as a slot receiver this spring. He runs sharp routes, catches most everything in sight and makes tacklers miss with the ball in his hands.
3. They should be good again at running back.
Yes, they’ll miss David Cobb. But Rodrick Williams shed 20 pounds and looks like he’s on a mission. Rodney Smith is a redshirt freshman with potential to be an every down back, and the fleet footed Berkley Edwards has gotten bigger and stronger.
Three questions that remain
1. Can the defense become elite?
The Gophers will start four seniors in the secondary, including All-Big Ten cornerbacks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Their linebackers look better than last year, and they should have a better pass rush, too. If it all comes together, this could be a Top 15 scoring defense.
2. Will Mitch Leidner become a better passer?
He completed just 51.5 percent of his passes last year, ranking 117th nationally among full-time quarterbacks. The new offense, with more short passing options, should help the junior get rid of the ball more quickly and get into a better rhythm. He needs to do the rest.
3. Can the redshirt freshmen receivers make a difference?
Fans have been hearing about Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland Jr., since they signed in February 2014. They redshirted last year and performed well behind the scenes. This spring, they all showed flashes, but time will tell how effective they’ll be during the season.