Dienhart: Minnesota spring football wrap

Few programs in the Big Ten can match the feel-good vibe that’s circulating in the Twin Cities. This is a Minnesota program that’s ascending and looks to have a legit shot to perhaps win the new Big Ten West. Jerry Kill continues to put his stamp on this team, a squad that plays smart and is stocked with personnel that fits what Kill wants to do on both sides of the ball.

Here are some thoughts from spring drills.

[ MORE: Watch a replay of the Minnesota spring game on BTN2Go ]

1. The offense didn’t look good in the spring game. In fact, it struggled, scoring just one touchdown along with four field goals. That’s it. But, take everything that happens in the spring with the proverbial grain of salt, as many key players were limited or didn’t partake. With Philip Nelson off to Rutgers, the quarterback job rests squarely with Mitch Leidner, who hit 7-of-15 passes for 74 yards in the spring game. Is he capable? He needs to show that he’s competent as a passer for an offense that ranked last in the Big Ten in passing in 2013. Keep an eye on early enrollee signal-caller Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, who looks good.

2. The running backs look good. Minnesota knows what it has in David Cobb, who burst onto the scene last season to become the first Gopher to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing plateau since 2006. Berkley Edwards is another exciting back who excelled all spring. The speedy home run hitter had 11 carries for 46 yards in the spring game. Rodrick Williams is another back who starred this spring, running for a team-high 52 yards in the spring game. Oh, and Donnell Kirkwood also is back. Few schools have better backs.

3. With more than half of the defensive starters not suited up, it was difficult to get a read on that side of the ball. One guy who did standout was JC transfer defensive lineman Robert Ndondo-Lay, who had three tackles, broke up a pass and notched a sack. It was one of four sacks for the Gophers. And that was a good sign.

4. The secondary looks to be a cut-above. Corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun was limited but turned some heads this spring after overcoming an ACL injury last season. Eric Murray is a solid corner, and Jalen Myric showed good closing speed and instincts. Marcus Jones is undersized at 5-8, but he’s a hitter. And there’s also Derrick Wells, who was limited in the spring while recovering from a shoulder injury. This is a nice collection of corners that may be the strength of the defense.

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The number: 12, number of different players who caught passes for Minnesota. Tight end Duke Anyanwu led the way with three grabs.

The quote: “Our kids have been enthusiastic all spring. They’re eager. I don’t like going back in the past. But after that bowl game, I said: ‘You better be starving because that ain’t going to happen anymore.’ So they’ve been back on a mission.” – Jerry Kill

Offseason to-do list
1. Work on the down-field passing game. Minnesota had the No. 12 passing game in the Big Ten in 2013 (148.1 ypg). Imagine how good this offense could be with better run-pass balance.

2. To that end, some go-to wideouts need to emerge. Drew Wolitarsky could be that guy. He caught most everything thrown his way this spring. And keep an eye on 6-10 tight end Nate Wozniak.

3. Playmakers are needed on defense. A guy who stood out was safety Damarius Travis, who also can play linebacker. More speed is always needed on this side of the ball for the Gophers.

4. A better pass rush is needed after Minnesota tallied just 18 sacks in 13 games in 2013. That was No. 10 in the Big Ten. And that won’t cut it. Big tackle Ra’Shede Hageman will be missed.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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