Kill: Need ‘Great’ Season from Tufts
The football Gophers begin practice next week and coach Jerry Kill talked to Sports Headliners about concerns for a team that was 3-9 last season but did win two Big Ten games and closed the season with an impressive 27-7 win over Illinois.
Kill is looking for receivers who can become exceptional; players who can locate a less than perfect pass and make the catch. “We need some guys to go make a play, make us look good,” Kill said. “If I’d say (identify)…the thing we need on our football team the most, it’s the concern who is that going to be? Is that going to be a freshman? Is it going to be Isaac Fruechte? Is it going to be (Devin Crawford-) Tufts?”
Fruechte, who was an all-state prep player in Caledonia, will be a first-year sophomore wide receiver for the Gophers after transferring from Rochester Community and Technical College. Kill said Fruechte “has the potential to be a very good athlete.”
Tufts, another sophomore wide receiver, played in nine games for the Gophers as a true freshman last season and showed big play potential including a 61-yard reception against Iowa. Kill is direct about his expectations for the former Edina football and track star.
“I think Devin Tufts has to have a great year for us if we’re going to be very good. I mean he’s gotta have a breakout season.”
Kill would obviously welcome a wide receiver like Eric Decker, a player who specialized in big plays and difficult catches during his Gophers career before turning heads with the NFL’s Broncos. “…There’s a reason he’s where he’s at,” Kill said. “They’re hard to find but we need one or two of them here because that will make us a lot better. “
Kill said he believes junior redshirt offensive lineman Ed Olson has “got a chance to have a breakout year,” and then he talked about the potential of several defensive players. He said sophomore Cedric Thompson could become a “great safety,” and talking on WCCO Radio during the offseason he has used the “G” word with Thieren Cockran, a redshirt defensive end who could become an extraordinary pass rusher.
“TC is a kid that’s a young freshman that I am encouraged by what he’s done,” Kill said. “Ra‘Shede Hageman is a young kid that is learning how to play defensive line. Played a great game against Illinois, left off in the spring, and I think everybody in the area knows what kind of athlete he is. He’s got an opportunity to take his name to the next level.
“Cameron Bottcelli (sophomore defensive tackle) is a kid that’s developed and he’s had a great summer. I think he’s got an opportunity to do some good things.”
Kill’s praise for secondary players goes beyond Thompson. He likes what he’s seen of his junior college newcomers, Jeremy Baltazar and Martez Shabazz, and also Briean Boddy who he describes as the “sleeper of the group.”
Then too there is sophomore safety Derrick Wells who was moved from cornerback to safety in the offseason. “Huge move on our football team,” Kill said. “I think in his next three years…I believe he’ll be an All-Big Ten player.”
Another player who switched positions was junior James Manuel, moving from safety to outside linebacker. Kill said the switch “was a good move for us to get ourselves better on defense.”
The Gophers had problems with punting last season and Kill is concerned about what the results will be in 2012. “The big question (about the team) is who is going to be the punter,” Kill said. “…There’s no question that’s the difference between winning and losing. That’s the biggest play in football. We gotta get better at it.”
When practice begins on August 2, Kill will be counting down to the opening game against UNLV 28 days later in Las Vegas. During the first few practices he will be looking at the freshmen to see who can play, contribute to team depth and perhaps even start. Some will have to play and help the Gophers.
“I think that’s the most important thing (to see in early practices),” Kill said. “How do they learn. Can they help us win? Are they going to be able to stay eligible playing in a Big Ten schedule?”