Mitch Leidner and the Gophers’ first-team offense had good moments Saturday. So did Jalen Myrick and the first-team defense.
But several highlights from the Gophers’ intrasquad scrimmage at Concordia (St. Paul) came from lower on the depth chart, where some freshmen look determined to rise quickly.
Shannon Brooks, a true freshman from Jasper, Ga., had 16 carries for 91 yards. Coach Jerry Kill gave him a long look with the second-team offense. Brooks often found zero daylight but kept his legs churning to move a pile, and he broke off a 35-yarder, too.
“He’s pretty tough isn’t he?” Kill said. “He runs pretty hard. I’ve got to go watch the film to see if he’ll block anybody or not, but he’s hard to tackle. And we figured that when we recruited him. You don’t rush for all those yards he did and not be a good back.”
Brooks rushed for 2,223 yards last year and was named Georgia’s 4A Offensive Player of the Year. He’s a fourth legitimate candidate to help replace David Cobb for the Gophers this year, along with Rodrick Williams, Rodney Smith and Berkley Edwards.
Kill also gave true freshman quarterback Demry Croft a long look with the second-team offense. The 6-5, 200-pound Croft showed a quick release and a consistently tight spiral, as he led the third-team offense on a 70-yard touchdown drive in the two-minute drill. Croft hit junior receiver Edward Sardinha on passes of 31 and 35 yards, with the second one going for a touchdown.
For the day, Croft completed four of nine passes for 73 yards. He ran for a 5-yard touchdown with the second-team offense, but he also took four sacks and fumbled once. He has weight to gain and plenty to learn, and the Gophers will probably redshirt him. But he looks like a future playmaker.
“He’s just an instinctive guy,” Kill said. “He’s had a heck of a camp, and it’s kind of like watching [Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater]. He doesn’t get real excited about anything. Nothing rattles the kid. Something bad happens, OK. He’s got an extreme amount of talent. He’s been very impressive in camp.”
The Gophers desperately want their young receivers to emerge, too. Melvin Holland Jr. gave a few thousand Gophers fans at Sea Foam Stadium a thrill on a slant pattern. Leidner hit the redshirt freshman in stride, and Holland burst through the secondary for 56 yards before safety Antonio Johnson caught him with a shoestring tackle at the 7.
“He’s been looking good,” Leidner said of Holland. “He’s got to keep being consistent every day and understand the offense, what we’re trying to do. But that was a great catch and run by him today. … He’s a very fast, explosive player, so that didn’t really surprise me.”
Leidner was 8-for-18 passing for 93 yards. He threw one interception to Myrick and got sacked in the end zone by Hank Ekpe for a safety. But Leidner also had a 9-yard rushing touchdown.
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler’s first pass was right to middle linebacker Cody Poock, who took the interception in for an easy touchdown. Streveler was 3-for-6 for 43 yards. He got several reps at receiver late in the scrimmage, but Kill said that’s still in the experimental stage.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jacques Perra completed six of 10 passes for 45 yards, and sophomore Conor Rhoda was 2-for-5 for 46 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Rashad Still.
On that play, Rhoda threw the ball about 50 yards, and Still made a leaping catch over KiAnte Hardin in the end zone.
“I thought we had some young receivers do really well, which we need,” Kill said.