Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 19, 2015

Jerry Kill?s first four years at Minnesota have brought progress each season, building to last year?s 5-3 conference record and a second-place finish in the Big Ten West. And the Gophers landed in a New Year?s Day bowl for the first time since the 1961 season. What will Kill do for his next act?

Read all our quick spring football reviews here, then have a look at three key areas of focus for the Golden Gophers this spring.

This is a program with a lot of momentum and talent returning, as expectations continue to build. But work remains largely for an offense with a passing attack that remains pedestrian-at best.


1. Find a running back. Is it a committee or does somebody step-up like David Cobb did the last two seasons (2,993 rushing yards)? The good news: running back could be the deepest position on the team even given the youth and somewhat anonymity of the group. The Golden Gophers added three backs in the 2015 class to go along with redshirt freshmen Jeff Jones-the biggest recruit of the Kill era–and Rodney Smith, a player that Minnesota coaches love. Then there is senior bruiser Rodrick Williams, whose final two touches last season were a 19-yard TD and a 20-yard TD.

2. Sort through the wideouts. The leading returning receiver is KJ Maye, who had 16 catches for 298 yards and 1 TD in 2014. After him? Drew Wolitarsky had 10 catches for 106 yards. The staff redshirted three wideouts (Isaiah Gentry, Melvin Holland, Jr., and Desmond Gant). The Gophers also brought in two 6-5, 200-pound targets in Rashad Still and Hunter Register. Somebody is going to have to make plays. It doesn?t help that Donovahn Jones has left the program. There also is a massive hole at tight end with Maxx Williams off early to the NFL.

3. Build the defensive line. Minnesota may have the best secondary in the Big Ten next season. And junior college LB transfer Cody Poock (who tore an ACL last spring and missed the season) should replace Damien Wilson at middle linebacker for what has been one of the Big Ten?s most underrated defenses in recent years. But will the line develop? Can Minnesota get pressure from the edge? Having end Thieren Cockran back is a boost. Tackle Steven Richardson started 12 games last year as a true freshman and was a star. Tackle Scott Ekpe tore his ACL last year and is back. This unit needs to begin to come together.


: 8-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten (lost to Missouri in Citrus Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 3
Spring game: April 11
Key players lost: DT Cameron Botticelli; RB David Cobb; G Zac Epping; WR Isaac Fruechte; TE Drew Goodger; C Tommy Olson; S Cedric Thompson; S Derrick Wells; TE Maxx Williams; MLB Damien Wilson
Key players back: G Joe Bjorklund; CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun; LB De?Vondre Campbell; OT Josh Campion; DE Thieren Cockran; RB Berkley Edwards; DT Scott Ekpe; DB Antonio Johnson; QB Mitch Leidner; LB Jack Lynn; WR KJ Maye; P Peter Mortell; CB Eric Murray; OT Jonah Pirsig; DT Steven Richardson; K Ryan Santoso; S Damarius Travis.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.