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U to Dial Back Quarterback Runs

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May 1, 2013

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The Gophers apparently will minimize the number of hits their quarterbacks will be exposed to next fall.  “I think there’s a lot of the quarterback run game that we kind of got rid of,” Philip Nelson said.

Fewer hits on Nelson and his backups can mean less chance of injuries.  The Gophers have minimal game experience at quarterback.  As a freshman, Nelson started seven games last year in relief of injured quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell.

Behind Nelson now on the quarterback depth chart is redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and true freshman Chris Streveler.

The rushing game responsibility will focus on the running backs.  Nelson was encouraged by the Gophers’ rushing game in the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas Tech and sees the performance as a predictor of success in 2013.  Running backs Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams were the team’s leading rushers in the game with 77 and 60 net yards, part of a team total of 222.  “I think our running game will be tremendous this year,” Nelson said.  “No doubt about it.”

In Big Ten Conference games last season the Gophers ranked No. 9 in rushing at 127.2 yards per game.  Minnesota is counting on an improved offensive line and better performances by the running backs including incoming freshman breakaway talent Berkley Edwards to inflate the rushing stats this fall.

Coach Jerry Kill knows that a better rushing game will buoy his young quarterbacks, causing defenses to respect both the run and pass. “You help quarterbacks by running the football,” Kill said.

After 15 spring practices that ended with last Saturday’s spring game, Nelson is the starting QB but with emphasis on constant competition and evaluation there are no guarantees.  “Somebody has to take Philip’s job (for there to be a change),” Kill said.  “Right now it’s his job.  Somebody has to take it.”

Kill is confident about his quarterback roster.  “I feel very good about that position,” he said.

The coach said it’s too soon to decide if Streveler will be redshirted.  The Illinois native enrolled in school last winter to participate in spring football.

The Gophers were 6-7 overall, 2-6 in the Big Ten last season including the bowl loss.  Nelson believes the team is much improved on both offense and defense.  How many games can the Gophers win?

“I think we can win them all, to be honest with you,” Nelson said.  “We’ve got a great squad.  As long as we stay healthy we’ve got a pretty dangerous team.”

Worth Noting

Former Gopher Adam Weber is with the NFL Bucs where he expects to compete against three or four other quarterbacks for a roster spot.  The last two seasons Weber has been on practice squads with the Broncos and Bucs where he earned about $100,000 per year.

Under league rules, a player can only spend three years on a practice squad so this is a big year for Weber.  “I am tired of being on the practice squad,” Weber told Sports Headliners.  “I want to play.  I want to be part of a team.  I want to help a team win.”

Weber said it’s a misperception that while offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was coaching Weber at Minnesota his throwing mechanics were messed up.  “No, not at all.  I owe a lot to Jedd Fisch.  He showed me a lot of things of what it takes to be a quarterback. …I wouldn’t even be where I am at if it wasn’t for Jedd.”

Weber, 25, did color commentary on the radio broadcast for the Gophers’ spring game last Saturday.  He’s undecided about post-football plans but broadcasting might be a possibility.

Former Vikings’ defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema, who is a sharp talent evaluator, labeled Vikings’ fourth round draft choice Gerald Hodges “the one to watch” and a “sleeper.”  Hodges is a former college safety turned linebacker and Lurtsema likes the field awareness and speed of the ex-Penn State player.

Hodges talking about what it was like to play for coaching legend Joe Paterno:  “It was a blessing.  It was like being coached by — not a God because no one is higher than God — but it was like being coached by a legend while he was still coaching. That was a blessing to even be in his hands.  He was more of a father figure than I would say coach.  He taught a lot (about) football, but at the same time, he taught us a lot about how to be a man and how to show respect.”

The super-prep foursome of Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, along with Houston’s Justise Winslow, and Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, both from Chicago, are talking about attending the same university starting in 2014-15, according to a Sunday story from the Courier-Journal.com.  The Louisville newspaper’s website story said the four high school juniors are talking about winning a national championship together.

Chris Monter, the local basketball writer, was asked last weekend how strong he thought the long-held plan was of Jones and Okafor attending school together.  “I would be surprised if it didn’t happen,” Monter said.

University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler is impressed with what he’s hearing about new basketball coach Richard Pitino.  “Everybody I’ve talked to is excited about his energy, excited about the people he’s brought so far, and I am looking forward to him having a good run at Minnesota,” Kaler told Sports Headliners.

Flip Saunders was a hometown favorite among fans for the job but turned it down.  Kaler wouldn’t elaborate on discussions with Saunders.   “I haven’t and don’t intend to make any comments about the coaching process selection.  I think we wound up with a really super guy and we’re focusing on his success.”

An athletic department spokesman e-mailed that “102 new deposits for season tickets” have been accepted since Pitino’s hiring.

St.   Thomas ranked No. 11 nationally in the unofficial winter Division III Learfield Sports Director’s Cup standings released last week.  Other MIAC schools in the top 50 were St. Olaf at No. 31 and Gustavus Adolphus, No. 37.  Concordia, Carleton and Saint  John’s also placed in the first 100.

Eleven of the MIAC’s 13 schools ranked among the leading 213 schools in the standings — second most for any Division III conference.   The Learfield standings measure each institution’s combined performance at national championship tournaments and events.  The final standings for school year 2012-13 will be announced June 6.

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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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