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Linebackers U Recruiting Priority

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November 30, 2012

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Ask prep recruiting authority Zach Johnson where he thinks the Gophers personnel priorities are for 2013 and he emphasizes junior college linebackers.  The Gophers are losing two of their three starting linebackers, seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper.  Junior Aaron Hill returns next season but Spencer Reeves, a key reserve behind Hill, is also a senior.

Jerry Kill and his coaches have long known about those departures but they didn’t expect to see reserve junior linebacker Brendan Beal, Rallis’ backup, suffer yet another knee injury this month which prompted speculation about his future.

“The key (for 2013 recruiting) is finding a running back, and finding linebackers, and not only linebackers but linebackers that are ready to play next year,” said Johnson, the publisher for Gopherillustrated.com.  “When you look back at last year (2012 recruits), they (the coaches) went and got what? Three or four defense backs.  I think they’ll go and get probably two juco linebackers, a juco defensive tackle, and that might be about all they need out of the juco ranks.

“If they could find the right juco receiver and juco running back that falls in their laps, they might take them.  But as far as need goes, I think they need to go get a junior college defensive tackle and two junior college linebackers.”

Johnson said last weekend in an interview with Sports Headliners that the linebacker unit in 2012 wasn’t all that outstanding and if the coaches had reserves who were better they likely would have put those players on the field.  Kill lifted the redshirt status off freshmen in other positions who could help the team.

Rivals.com lists nine players who have made verbal commitments for Minnesota’s 2013 recruiting class.  Only one, Wayzata’s Chris Wipson, is a linebacker. But before National Signing Day on February 6, the Gophers will finalize a lot more than nine players and for sure more than one linebacker.

Six of the players on the Rivals list are three-star recruits while three others receive two-stars.  “I don’t see any major four-star guys even on our (the Gophers) radar right now,” Johnson said.

The Gophers 2012 recruiting class was ranked last in the Big Ten by Rivals.  Johnson thinks the 2013 class might also finish 12th among the conference programs.

“Until they turn into a Big Ten legitimate team—you’re talking eight, nine wins—I think you’ll see Kill’s recruiting continue to be under the radar guys—sleepers, guys that might be an inch or two shorter than what the big teams want at their positions.  And just using their (Gophers coaches) connections to find these guys that are not on the typical recruiting trail.

“I think you can win to a point in the Big Ten with that.  I think you can go 6-6 and 7-5 and maybe on a good year get to 8-4, but I don’t think you can win consistently in the Big Ten when you’re competing against the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State. …”

There’s hope and optimism among the Gophers faithful the 2012 class will ultimately prove it was judged way too low in comparison with other conference recruits.  Johnson is not ready to conclude it will happen.

“I mean we know that they can win at Southern Illinois and at Northern Illinois but we don’t know if they can recruit (outstanding) under the radar guys (at Minnesota).  Sure we’ve got some nice players but we don’t have any proof that they can find those guys and turn them into eight, nine win teams.

“We don’t even know if we can turn them into six win teams because a lot of the top players on the team right now are (former coach Tim) Brewster’s guys, at least defensively.  So we really don’t know if they (Kill and his coaches) can use the same (under the radar) formula and compete at the Big Ten level.  We’re assuming they can.  But we’ll see what happens.”

Gophers coaches are recruiting this week while the team has the week off before bowl preparations begin.  Johnson said Fairhope, Alabama cornerback Nate Andrews is expected to visit here this week.  The 6-foot Andrews reportedly has offers from Florida State and Mississippi.  

Gophers, Vikings & Other Notes

Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi told Sports Headliners he was aware of Jerry Kill’s health history before he hired Kill away from Northern Illinois in 2010. While Maturi did his “due diligence” about Kill, he said the health factor didn’t give him pause before making him the new Gophers coach.

“I knew he had seizures and was a cancer survivor.  We checked with the medical people at Northwestern (where Kill was treated) and with doctors here,” Maturi said.

Maturi was told Kill is healthy enough to coach.  Since coming to Minnesota Kill has experienced three game day seizures but has missed minimal coaching time at games and practices.

The Big Ten will add to its 12 schools membership with Maryland and Rutgers joining the conference in 2014.  Maturi wouldn’t be surprised to see further expansion to 16 teams.  Who might the next two schools be?  “You have to look at who brings in television sets,” Maturi said.

Speculation about additional Big Ten members includes Boston College, Kansas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.

ESPN.com’s November 20 Big Ten Blog, using USA Today as its source, lists annual salaries of Big Ten football coaches.  Now fired Purdue coach Danny Hope was last at $970,000 while Kill was 11th at $1.2 million.  Indiana’s Kevin Wilson and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald are just ahead of Kill at $1.26 million each. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer earns a league-leading $4.3 million.

The Vikings and Packers make history on Sunday when the two teams play in Green Bay.  Never before have the two rivals played their first game of the year against one another in December.  When the Packers come to Minneapolis on December 30 for a second game, it will be the first time the two franchises have played both games in December.

Adrian Peterson’s 1,236 yards not only leads all NFL runners, but his yardage is more than the totals of 18 other league teams.  He has rushed for over 100 yards in five consecutive games and is now tied with Robert Smith for the Vikings franchise record.

Peterson said “he’s been preparing as if” Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews was playing on Sunday but an ESPN report yesterday morning predicted Mathews will be sidelined.  “He’s one of their playmakers on defense,” Peterson said. “He’s a talented guy. It will definitely be easier with him not out there.”

Peterson missed the team bus from the hotel on Sunday when the Vikings travelled to Soldier Field for their game against the Bears.  He said he slept through his wake- up call.

Defensive end Jared Allen said he doesn’t expect the Bears to pursue revenge against him when Chicago plays here a week from Sunday.  Although Allen said there was “no ill intent in it,” the NFL fined him $21,000 for the blow he delivered to Chicago offensive lineman Lance Lewis who suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season.  “You never want to injure anybody,” Allen said.

Asked whether he budgets for NFL fines, Allen said he will check to see if the money can be deducted under the “tax code.”

Wide receiver Percy Harvin is 12th in league receptions with 62 despite missing two games.  It’s uncertain whether he will play against the Packers because of his injured ankle.

Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway is second in the NFL in tackles with 107.  He should be a Pro Bowl selection for the second time in his career.

Center John Sullivan and other Vikings Notre Dame alums will take a private jet to Miami for the January 7 BCS title game to watch the Irish play if there’s not a conflict with the Vikings’ playoff schedule.

The North Florida team the Gophers play in basketball tomorrow afternoon at Williams Arena is 2-4 including a 15 point loss to Memphis and eight point defeat against Florida State.  Minnesota, 7-1 and ranked No. 21 nationally by Associated Press, has played four teams highly regarded by Sports Illustrated in its November college basketball preview issue.  The Gophers lost to Duke, but have wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State.

The Nebraska-Omaha team that plays the hockey Gophers tonight and tomorrow night at Mariucci Arena is 2-0 in road games this season while Minnesota is 5-0-1 at home.  Mavericks head coach Dean Blais is a 1973 Minnesota graduate while assistants Steve Johnson and Troy Jutting have previous experience coaching respectively at St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.

When the Twins acquired right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer yesterday from Washington in exchange for center fielder Denard Span they received a player ranked earlier this year as the sixth best prospect in the Nationals organization by Baseball America.  The 22-year-old Meyer pitched collegiately for Kentucky and was drafted 23rd overall by the Nationals in 2011. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander was 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA, 45 walks and 139 strikeouts in 25 starts with Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Potomac last season.

Outfielder Nate Roberts and pitcher Kyle Gibson from the Twins organization were included on the 22 member Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects Team announced this week, according to mlb.com.  Roberts led the AFL in batting with a .446 average.  Gibson, who had a 3-2 record, was among the league’s winningest pitchers. 

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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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