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Kill: No Starters Locked in Now

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March 4, 2013

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Gophers football notes following a recent conversation with coach Jerry Kill.

Spring practice begins March 26 and no player, regardless of experience or ability, is a certain starter.  The emphasis will be on competition and opportunity at all positions, with nothing guaranteed.  “You’re going to put your best players out there (eventually),” Kill said.

The Gophers will have 15 practices including the annual spring game open to the public on April 27.  For Kill and his assistants this will be the third spring practice but the coach’s perspective on the program is shaped by recruiting classes.  Kill wasn’t hired until December of 2010 so his impact on the 2011 recruiting class was minimal.

“We need about three recruiting classes to get this thing turned around,” he said.  “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The 2011 Gophers were 3-9 while last fall’s team was 6-7 and played in the program’s first bowl game since 2009.  The most improvement was defensively where the Gophers went from allowing 31.7 points per game to 24.7.

The offense was often ineffective but in a Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas Tech, Minnesota scored 31 points and had 368 yards total offense.  To be better in 2013 than last fall, Kill said the offense needs to play like the bowl game performance.

Going into spring practice later this month Kill not only has most of his players returning, but the entire coaching staff.  In the “musical chairs” world of head coaches and assistants changing jobs, that’s an indicator of the stability in the Minnesota program and a plus for the players who don’t have to adjust to new personalities and schemes.

Kill said other programs come after his assistants but he’s been able to keep his staff together at Minnesota.  Not long ago another Gopher assistant turned down an opportunity to leave, Kill disclosed.

Today the Gophers are hosting Pro Day.  Nine players who were seniors last fall are expected to work out for pro football talent evaluators:  Michael Carter, Keanon Cooper, MarQueis Gray, Brandon Green, John Rabe, Mike Rallis, Spencer Reeves, Troy Stoudermire and Jordan Wettstein.

Gray could be the most likely player to be drafted by the NFL but even he might be left out when the league holds its three-day draft next month.  The 6-foot-4, 240- pound Gray played quarterback and wide receiver at Minnesota with mixed results despite his athleticism.

While it may surprise fans, Kill said with the new found interest in the read option offense in the NFL some teams could have interest in Gray as a quarterback.  NFL teams will consider Gray as a tight end or wide receiver prospect, too, perhaps signing him as a free agent.

Worth Noting

Gophers’ senior center Trevor Mbakwe said he’s been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament April 10-13 in Portsmouth, Virginia.  The tournament provides NBA scouts an opportunity to evaluate college seniors.

Mbakwe was named Big Ten Player of the Week this morning after his performances last week when he made 73.3 percent of his field goals and had two double-doubles in leading the Gophers to wins over No. 1 ranked Indiana and Penn State in his final game at Williams Arena.

Apparently Gophers’ coach Tubby Smith wasn’t planning to celebrate after Saturday’s 73-44 win over Penn State.  He reported a sore throat at his news conference and was headed to bed.

A   street ticket hawker claimed he sold tickets on Friday for the Penn State-Minnesota game for $125 each.  He expected to sell $33 tickets on Saturday for about $65 or $70.

A different ticket peddler thought he could sell $35 tickets for around $60 each prior to Saturday night’s Gophers hockey game against Denver.  That was Minnesota’s last ever WCHA regular season game at Mariucci Arena.  Zach Budish had four points on two goals and two assists in Minnesota’s 5-1 win over Denver.

At Saturday’s Gophers-Penn State game the athletic department honored Jim Duffy who has been a season ticket holder for 68 years.

If Flip Saunders ends up being the Timberwolves general manager or coach this spring, it won’t be the first time that Gophers boosters will be disappointed he didn’t return to his alma mater as coach.  I was told Saunders was approached about coaching the Gophers prior to Dan Monson being hired as Minnesota coach in 1999.

Saunders’ son Ryan, a former Gopher, is an assistant coach for the Wizards who play the Timberwolves at Target Center on Wednesday night.

Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi remains a fan of the school’s teams.  Since last fall he’s attended all home football games, men’s basketball games, and men’s and women’s hockey games, and most women’s basketball games.

Maturi begins a three-year membership starting July 1 on the NCAA Infractions Committee.  Also on the committee is former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr.

When the Twins open their regular season schedule on April 1 at Target Field against the Tigers the starting pitcher might be Vance Worley, the 25-year-old who was acquired during the offseason from the Phillies.  The Twins would enjoy seeing the right-hander repeat his April success of last season with the Phillies — 2-1 with a 1.97 ERA in five starts.  The rookie pitcher had a 13 inning scoreless streak during the month and career high 11 strikeouts against the Padres.

The Twins and other major league franchises continue to put an emphasis on foreign-born players.  In 2012, according to information in the Twins’ 2013 media guide, the organization had 119 foreign-born players including 50 from the Dominican Republic and 31 from Venezuela.  In 2011 the total of foreign-born players was 104.

North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson will be in Minneapolis tomorrow joining new Minnesota Stars owner Bill McGuire for a news conference, along with new team president Nick Rogers and coach Manny Lagos.  Peterson will talk about the importance of having pro soccer in the state.  The Stars will play five of their homes game this season at the Metrodome with the first on April 6 against San Antonio.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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