Dienhart: What I learned from Minnesota spring game
Tracy Claeys has put the wraps on his first spring practice as Minnesota coach. He’s looking to amp up a program that took a step back last year by going 6-7, the Gophers’ first losing mark since 2012.
It was a difficult season filled with challenges, as Jerry Kill stepped down after seven games to tend to health issues and Claeys eventually was made full-time coach after running things on an interim basis. He wasted little time putting his stamp on things by shaking up the staff, bringing in a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach while promoting from within to fill his defensive coordinator job.
Here are some things I learned from the Golden Gophers’ spring game.
1. Minnesota knows Mitch Leidner is its unquestioned starter under center. But who is the backup? The Gophers got a look at the QB depth chart as Leidner is coming off left foot surgery. Demry Croft still looks very much like a work in progress, meaning Leidner may need to stay healthy—or else. New OC Jay Johnson says Croft has been improving all spring. He has an impressive 6-5 frame, a good arm and outstanding athletic skills. Seth Green is an exciting true freshman. These guys will be only as good as the wideouts, who have a lot to prove with KJ Maye gone.
2. The running game looks to be strong—once again. This has been the core strength of this program for years. The o-line has been bolstered by the arrival of JC transfers Vincent Calhoun (right guard) and Garrison Wright (left tackle). And there is no shortage of backs with the likes of Shannon Brook and Rodney Smith along with Jonathan Femi-Cole and James Johannesson.
3. The Gophers came into the spring needing to amp up the pass rush. The unit generated just 22 sacks last year. Theiren Cockran and Alex Keith are gone, so Gaelin Elmore and Hank Ekpe need to step up. Flashes are there. The interior of the d-line looks good and features nice depth with the likes of Gary Moore, JC Merrick Jackson, Steven Richardson, Andrew Stetler, Yoshoub Timms and Scott Ekpe. The situation at cornerback isn’t as glowing, as the defense tries to replace Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. Jalen Myrick should man one spot. The other?
4. We didn’t learn much about the schemes that new coordinators will use. Jay Johnson arrived from Louisiana-Lafayette to run the offense, while Jay Sawvel was promoted to run the defense. Johnson is expected to employ some pistol formations, while the defense has some 3-4 looks. It’s all about not reveling too much for opponents to see. It’s only April.
5. Keep an eye on the kicking situation. Emmit Carpenter nailed all four of his field-goal attempts and could win the job, with incumbent Ryan Santoso working as punter and attempting long field-goal attempts. Tracy Claeys doesn’t want the same guy kicking and punting.
6. Maybe the biggest news was that top Minnesota prospect Blaise Andries committed to the Gophers. The stud offensive lineman had reported offers from Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oregon, TCU, Nebraska, Missouri, Penn State, Arkansas and Florida among others. He is the first player to commit to the Gophers for the Class of 2017. It was also neat to learn that former Gopher Tony Dungy spoke to the team.
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