|I've never seen Jerry so happy, thanks google images!|
Like most Gopher football fans I have learned to deal with disappointment. I self medicate. I cry. I shake my fist at the sky. I cry. However, each year before the season begins there is a little bit of hope in my heart for the Maroon and Gold. I know, realistically speaking, that there shouldn't be, but nevertheless there is.
This year, I'm showing what an ultimate fan I am by heading to Las Vegas, a place no one would normally ever bother to go to, in order to watch the Gophers take on the Running Rebels. In preparation for this game and the upcoming season I stopped by one of the open practices at Gibson-Nagurski on Tuesday to KILL some time and get early impressions of the team.
|Gray thinks about throwing me a pass.|
Watching Marqueis Gray throw the ball was pretty impressive. His delivery seems to be smoother and it seems to me he stood a little taller on his release. Now this could be because he's doing 7-7 drills and isn't under pressure, but in the past I got the impression that he sort of crouched a bit more on his throws during games. He's a big dude and standing tall is going to help him see the field. The backups are sophomore Max Shortell and freshmen Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner. They're young, they have size and they all can throw the ball well. Leidner was all-time-quarterback with the freshman/leftovers and Gray, Shortell and Nelson where slangin' rocks with the ones and twos.
In fact, overall this team feels like it has more depth. Sure they're young, but there's size and/or speed at a number of positions. The young WRs really had some stand-out plays. There are a number of battles on the offensive and defensive line that show players are working hard to make themselves better. Our senior LBs of Rallis and Cooper are probably set as starters, but the other outside linebacker looks to be a battle and may be shuffled depending on the situation. I really liked how James Manuel looked out there. Manuel has transformed his body and looks like a legit linebacker out there.
In fact, a lot of these guys must have really worked hard this off-season. Ra'Shede Hageman is absolutely massive. Coach Kill said that all of the o-linemen have put on 10-15 pounds in the off-season and it shows. Coach Klein and Assistant Coach Thompson (Gracie Jiu Jitsu blue belt!) must have really had these guys working this past year.
|New Weight RoomHas New Weights|
The running backs appear to be in a battle for carries that might carry into the season. However, in doesn't feel as much like it has to mean in the past where everyone had a shot because no one was very impressive. I saw some nice plays from a number of backs during the drills. Redshirt sophomore Donnell Kirkwood is a bowling ball, and if healthy could be a player that carries the load. He had a number of nice runs where he waiting for his hole and quickly hit it or made a nice cut to daylight. Juco transfer James Gillum is thought to be either the favorite or co-favorite for the starting job by many. I didn't see as many big runs by him, but I saw one catch on a swing pass that was very impressive. Sophomores David Cobb and Devon Wright also had a bunch of good runs and I really thought Wright showed a bit of breakaway speed at times.
The defensive line is a big key for the Gophers this year. As mentioned, Hageman is huge and he was like a bull in a china shop out there on the field. I have the impression that he's really good at blasting lineman around, but at times that opened up big holes for the running backs. I thought Jacques and Legania played well together and I could see either of them pushing for starting time over Botticelli at defensive tackle. The drills I saw probably aren't the best to get impressions of the pass rush, but it was fun to watch Ben Perry and Ed Olson battle.
Who Made Some Plays? Obviously, this is just one practice, but a number of players made nice plays in the drills. I saw interceptions by Cooper, Shabazz, Carter, Rallis and Boddy. 6'4" freshman Lincoln Plsek made a great catch on flag route from Mitch Leidner where he had to go up for full extension. Jamel Harbison is very good at shaking loose from coverage and made a number of catches. Isaac Freuchte caught a nice pass down the sideline. Fellow freshman KJ Maye looks pretty electric with the ball. I also saw some big hits in the rushing drills by Beal, Wells, Cooper and Cockran.