The Gophers could be leaning more heavily on true freshmen Saturday against Ohio.
Coach Jerry Kill said Thursday on his weekly KFAN (100.3-FM) appearance that true freshman running back Shannon Brooks will see an increased role this week.
The Gophers entered the year with senior Rodrick Williams atop the tailback depth chart. Kill said Williams will still play, but it sounds like redshirt freshman Rodney Smith and Brooks could carry more of the load. Kill said that’s a tough decision because “I love Rodrick to death.”
Williams has averaged 3.3 yards on his 21 carries. Smith is at 4.0 in 67 carries. Brooks has played on special teams and was in for one offensive play against Colorado State, a fumbled handoff from Mitch Leidner.
“[Brooks] is a true freshman, but he’s too good of a player to stand next to me,” Kill said.
The Gophers have also given reps to three freshmen on the offensive line this week: Bronson Dovich, Quinn Oseland and Tyler Moore. Kill said Nick Connelly would be added to that list, had he not suffered a concussion.
Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer, who is recovering from a knee injury, broke a hand at Wednesday’s practice and is questionable for the Ohio game.
Safety Damarius Travis remains out with a hamstring injury, but Kill said the Gophers will have safety Ace Rogers back from his knee injury.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jeff Jones has played only sparingly through three games, without touching the ball. Kill mentioned that Jones is still catching up after missing practice time with migraines.
“So he’s still learning what to do,” Kill said. “He’s getting better at it, but KJ Maye and those guys are older and doing some good things.”
Empathy for Leidner
Speaking tongue-in-cheek to KFAN about the scrutiny quarterback Mitch Leidner faces, Kill said: “You know, talking to him, I won’t recruit another quarterback from the state of Minnesota. It’s too hard on them. I mean, you guys ask me questions every day about it. But he gets — his parents get abused. I mean, he can’t go out.
“It’s like I told him, ‘Welcome to the real world.’ You’ve got to find a way to shut all that out, and just — you can’t start thinking you’re not good. You’ve got to hang in there mentally.”
Kill most certainly would recruit another Minnesota quarterback, but he was serious about how hard the criticism can be for a local player. Kill gets it, too, even from his own mother, Sonja. She turned 75 on Thursday and told her son the Gophers “didn’t play very well” against Kent State.
“So I told Mitch, ‘Hey, my mom yelled at me, so what the heck?’ ” Kill said.