Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Minnesota football practice
The Minnesota program is on solid footing, having been to a bowl each of the last four seasons as Tracy Claeys assumes command. But the staff has been altered. Still, there is momentum coming off a bowl win that capped a disappointing 6-7 season.
Claeys let go offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski. Jay Johnson was hired from Louisiana-Lafayette to run the offense and coach quarterbacks, while Bart Miller was tabbed to coach the line.
Here is what I’ll be watching at Minnesota practice.
1. Is the offense clicking? More run-pass balance is needed for an attack that ranked No. 13 in the Big Ten in scoring (22.5 ppg), 11th in rushing (144.1 ypg) and 12th overall (358.9 ypg) last season. OC Jay Johnson needs to make this a more consistent attack. How has the personnel adapted?
2. Is the secondary coming together? The Gophers lose two All-Big Ten corners in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Jalen Myrick, who has a ton of playing time, should step in fine at one spot. Who is the other corner? A guy to watch is sophomore KiAnte Hardin, who has gotten stronger. Antonio Schenault got his feet wet as a true freshman last year and also is in the mix. And Claeys is high on redshirt freshman Ray Buford. At safety, keep an eye on Damarius Travis, who received a medical redshirt after missing all but one game because of injury. Some staffers felt he could have been the team’s top DB in 2015.
3. Is the o-line meshing? New line coach Bart Miller wants the front to be stronger. Miller came from Florida Atlantic, where he worked the last two years. He coached Wisconsin’s line in 2012 under Bret Bielema. This area is a huge area of emphasis for Claeys. I want to see JC transfers Garrison Wright and Vincent Calhoun. They are supposed to be good. Jonah Pirsig will be the right tackle and Tyler Moore will be center. They are the two returning starters and anchors.
4. How is the punting? The staff needs to replace Peter Mortell, who was 2014 Big Ten punter of the year and left campus with a 44-yard average—the best in school annals.
5. Does QB Mitch Leidner look good? He is coming off foot surgery. The senior needs to be moving well for this offense to click. It also will be interesting to see how the No. 2 QB spot fleshes out. Sophomore Demry Croft and Seth Green are talented. Croft got his feet last year and drips with potential. Green is a ballyhooed recruit from Texas who originally committed Oregon.
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