Experience will most likely win out when it comes to a starting running back for the Golden Gophers this season. After all, of the five running backs on the roster, there is one senior and four freshmen.
Duane Bennett is that lone senior and he's in his fifth year in the program. He has 360 career carries for 1,487 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Bennett has added 79 career receptions for 783 yards and five scores. Of the remainder of the running backs, there are three red-shirt freshmen and a true freshmen.
In addition to all that experience, Bennett has become a team leader. Even better than his leadership, says offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, is Bennett's willingness to mentor the youngsters in his position group.
"Duane is practically an assistant coach out there," Limegrover said. "He's been here for about 15 years, I think. You've got to love his energy ... it's well-placed, it's well-timed. He's a positive kid. He's becoming that voice of the offense. He's not going to accept anything less from his teammates. He's going to get after somebody. He's going to make sure everybody's towing the line. With those young running backs ... it's him and a bunch of babies. He's done a great job of really bringing those guys along."
Red-shirt freshmen Donnell Kirkwood, Lamonte Edwards and Devon Wright, along with true freshman David Cobb, are all benefitting from Bennett's knowledge. Bennett said he enjoys working with the youngsters. His goal is to leave the running back position better for his being here.
"Being able to get those guys to really learn the offense, learn how to work, learn how to do things the right way ... it has been an honor to be able to have these guys," Bennett said. "They have such tremendous talent. Being able to coach those guys on the little things to make them better in the long run, I've had a lot of fun. They are continuing to educate themselves every day. So when they come in next year, they are going to be 10 times better than what they were this year."
If coaching up the guys who are trying to take carries away from him isn't proof enough, Bennett makes it very clear that he is the ultimate team guy. He knows he will probably play a significant role on this team. But he hasn't let that go to his head. All he wants to do is win games.
"My expectation is to go out there and be a great leader for my team," Bennett said. "I'm not looking for any type of statistical things. I feel that once you get involved with individual success, you start to detract from the team, you start to tear yourself away from the team. As long as we get success as a team, the individual success will come. So, I'm all about the team right now."
So, who has the inside track to getting carries behind Bennett?
Kirkwood saw action in four games as a true freshman during the 2010 season, before an leg injury forced him out of the lineup and into a medical hardship waiver. He rushed for 107 yards on 27 carries for a 4.0-yard average. With that experience, he could be the top backup. But he has struggled with a hamstring issue through the early portions of fall camp.
The coaches like Edwards' size and physical nature. But they say he still has work to do to learn how to run with a lower pad level, etc. Wright was on campus last year, but was unable to work out with the football team due to an academic issue. So, while he has a good deal of natural talent, he's still shaking the rust off and is learning just like a true freshman. Speaking of true freshmen, Cobb has received some reps with the first-team offense in fall camp and has shown a propensity for hard running and some big gains. However, he's also put the ball on the turf a few times.
So, sorting that pecking order out is still a work in progress.
"They've all had their moments," Limegrover said.
"They're learning," Kill said. "We've got an all-freshman backfield, except for Duane. Each day you hope they get better, so they become older."
>The end of today's practice marked the halfway point between the start of preseason camp and the final practice in preparation for the season-opener at USC.
>Coach Kill gave his weekly injury report following today's workout. The bad news is there is still a fair number of Gophers who are on the injured list. The good news is that most of the injuries are not severe and Coach Kill expects many of those players back on the field soon.
>Kicker Chris Hawthorned talked a bit after practice about Coach Kill and the "mind games" he plays with the kickers throughout practice. "He wants us to succeed as a team and as a unit. So he tries to make it as hard and game-like as possible. He does a very good job of it and hopefully the results of it will pay off in the season.
>The Gophers are slated for a pair of practices in shells (shoulder pads and helmets) Friday.