Illinois came to the Metrodome on the first Saturday in November. Gophers coach Tim Brewster had spent the week confiding to insiders that his football team was primed to upset his alma mater and claim its first Big Ten victory.

Didn't work out that way.

Illinois quarterback Juice Williams was in charge of an offense that compiled 429 yards in the first half. The Illini eased to a total of 655 yards and a 44-17 victory.

On Tuesday, two days before the Gophers would assemble for 2008 spring practice, quarterback Adam Weber was asked if watching Williams on that Saturday night caused him to say, "This is how a spread offense is supposed to work."

Weber nodded and said: "That was the one game all year when I felt as though we were totally outplayed. Juice Williams was great that night.

"You could see the improvement in that game from his first year to his second year. I hope to be able to do the same thing."

Weber was signed by Glen Mason's staff in February 2006 with a strong feeling that he would be ready to succeed a graduated Bryan Cupito for the 2007 season. That would have put Weber in a power-running offense, where most of the quarterback's throws came off play action.

Cupito made 36 starts for the Gophers and was credited with 90 rushing attempts. Weber spent the 2006 season as a redshirt becoming indoctrinated into that offense.

And then Texas Tech's Alex Trlica made a 52-yard field goal on the last play of regulation in the 2006 Insight Bowl, and Mason was fired, and Brewster was hired in mid-January as a replacement.

Brewster arrived with a determination to install a spread offense. He hired Mike Dunbar, a veteran schemer with that offense, as the coordinator.

Weber, a second-year freshman, remained the favorite to be quarterback in this new offense.

"Spring ball was brutal last year," Weber said.

Fall ball was worse than brutal. The Gophers were 0-8 in the Big Ten and 1-11 overall. They accomplished this futility with the worst defense in Division I-A and an offense that too often waited until desperation time to produce.

The Gophers totaled 282 points in regulation. They scored 51 of those in first quarters and 93 in fourth quarters.

Weber, operating from a shotgun formation, led the Gophers with 146 carries in his 12 starts. He was in double figures for carries in eight games, including 20 against Purdue.

"You get hit so many times ... it does take a toll," Weber said. "My body was aching for two, three weeks after the season."

The quarterback said he weighed 212 to 215 pounds during the final weeks of the '07 schedule. He embarked on an offseason program intended to add size in the hope to better take the pounding.

The players are measured physically before the start of the offseason program and then before the start of spring football. Weber said he weighed in at 232 pounds last week, and he will be at 225 Thursday for the start of practice.

"I got rid of seven pounds of the bad stuff and kept the 10 pounds of good weight [muscle]," he said. "I feel stronger. And with a year in the offense, this is going to be a good spring."

Asked about the "brutal" spring of '07, he said: "I remember our first meeting with Coach Dunbar. It sounded like he was speaking Chinese to us. He was asking us, 'Have you ever done this, have you ever done that?' I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' "

Brewster started Tuesday's media session with a 32-minute monologue during which he praised Weber. He also vowed quarterback competition this spring, and even more so when hotshot freshman MarQueis Gray arrives this summer.

"As the starter last year, you deserve to have the job when practice starts," Weber said. "You deserve the opportunity to prove that you can move the offense. But if you come out and fail, and somebody can move the offense better than you, then they deserve to play.

"The way I look at it, you're competing to be the starter every day, to show the coaches that you're the quarterback they want on the field."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •