The Gophers football team opens spring practice next Tuesday, and this is the time when you start hearing about the progress several players have made in their offseason strength and conditioning workouts. This week, coach Tracy Claeys started listing some examples off the top of his head. He mentioned several players. I wouldn't read too much into it if he skipped over anyone, but my ears perked up with a few names.
Claeys on the morning workouts: "As a whole, it’s gone much better than it has in the past. Our consistency level of our workouts has been awfully good. Part of that is that we moved them to seven o’clock in the morning and made kids change schedule a little bit. I’ll tell you what, if you have to get up at five o’clock every morning and run when it’s cold, that will wear you out. I think just moving them back an hour has helped a lot with the kids mentally, and that part of it has been really good.
Claeys on the offense: "But if I could go through a few of the kids, it would be Nick Connelly from Red Wing. He’s done awfully well for a redshirt freshman. The two junior college O-linemen [Garrison Wright and Vincent Calhoun] are going to help us out. There is no question on that up front.
"Seth [Green], for his athleticism and that, he’s really stuck out. I didn’t realize, he just turned 18 here a week or so ago [Feb. 14]. He’s a good looking kid. I was telling him how crazy it is, you leave home at 17 years old to go to college. It’s a weird deal. He’s done awfully well with that part of stuff.
"Shannon Brooks has continued to get better. He’s really done well at the running back spot and you know, those two kids we redshirted -- I’m excited to see them go in the spring: Femi [Jonathan Femi-Cole] and James [Johannesson]. Those two kids have done good. That’s a positive.
"I think we’ve got enough talent at receiver. Those kids have gotten better from a year ago as a group. We don’t have any issues there I don’t think. ...The tight end group I think is good with Brandon [Lingen], and Nick Hart has had a good spring. The one that I look forward to seeing, who has really done well is the redshirt kid is [Colton] Beebe. He has done extremely well.
"Just in general, all the O-linemen to where they move better. They’ve got to get used to being more aggressive and getting off the ball. Those are the things that we have to try to take care of during spring ball.
Claeys on the defense: "Defensively, Merrick [Jackson], the junior college kid that we brought in, has had a good offseason. Gary Moore is a lot better player before he redshirted. Still growing and all that. He’s a big, strong dude, so that is helpful. Defensive line, of the ones returning, Andrew Stelter has had probably the best offseason workout of the guys up front. He’s up to 295 pounds and hasn’t lost anything. He has made himself a better football player, so that is a good deal. Scott [Ekpe] is finally completely back form his ACL and has done really good. He’s about three bills too. We are getting bigger in there.
"Defensive end, Hank [Ekpe] continues to be a very good athlete and Gaelin Elmore has done well, so I feel good about the guys up front in the D-line.
"Linebacker, this is by far, since we’ve been here, is the most depth, all of those kids. I can’t dog on any of them. They've competed hard with Jack [Lynn] coming back, and that will be fun to watch, the competition and that. Then it'll be up to us to find ways to get some of those guys on the field like we did against Central [Michigan] a little bit because all of those guys can run and hit.
"In the secondary, I’m excited to see Ray Buford play with his size and skill from being redshirted. The other redshirt back there is Dior Johnson. Shoot, Damarius Travis has done a tremendous job. To have him back a year to work with those younger kids. It was a big negative to not have him a year ago, but that has really turned into a big plus to have him around and what he’s done for those kids. KiAnte [Hardin] has put on some weight to get up there to where he still moves awfully well."