Coming into the season, one area of the Gopher defense that seemed to be the most solid was the linebacking corps. With numerous experienced players returning and the addition of a much-heralded transfer, linebacker was to be the strength of the defense.
It might still be, once the Gophers get healthy at that position. Two penciled-in starters - Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper - have missed practice time over the last week. Rallis has an undisclosed illness and Cooper has been nursing a wrist injury. In addition, Aaron Hill has a hamstring issue that leaves him as questionable for the season-opener at USC on Sept. 3.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been happy with the progress of this group, despite the nicks the unit has taken in the past few days.
"Besides the injury part, they have been very consistent," Claeys said. "If we get them all back, we'll be healthy and have a lot of depth. There's a good group there. Gary (Tinsley) has done well. (Brendan) Beal has done well ... (Mike) Rallis, (Keanon) Cooper. Aaron Hill has come a long way. We have a nice group there to work with. So, I'm very pleased with their progress since spring ball and through fall camp."
Head coach Jerry Kill said Thursday that he fully expects Rallis and Cooper to be back at practice on Monday, when preparations for USC begin in earnest.
Tinsley has been running with the first unit through much of fall camp at the middle linebacker position. He said Claeys and linebackers coach Bill Miller have been doing a good job of preparing everyone at the position.
"We're all in the film room, learning," Tinsley said. "The coaches are breaking it down for everybody. So when they come out, everybody is confident and we're making sure we communicate with each other. I think we'll be good."
While Miller said he hasn't seen a superstar emerge from the linebackers, he feels good about what his unit can do collectively.
"I think we've made some progress," Miller said. "We're getting closer to where we really feel good about a number of people. We do have some experienced guys coming back, so I think you feel good about that. I'm pleased with where we are right now and where we're heading."
Every member of the Minnesota football team is looking forward to and hoping to be included in the group getting on an airplane for Los Angeles one week from today. But one Gopher linebacker may be just a bit more excited than usual.
Beal, a transfer from Florida, can't wait to set foot on the turf at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He was a highly-touted prep player out of the state of Pennsylvania and eventually signed with the Gators. But he was injured during preseason camp in both 2008 and 2009 at Florida. With the injury issues he had, he was forced so far down the depth chart, he sought out playing time and a change of scenery. He chose Minnesota and sat out during the 2010 season, per NCAA transfer rules.
Now, he is raring and ready to go.
"(I'm anxious) just to play, get after it," Beal said. "USC in the Coliseum, one of the biggest stages in college football, I'm just ready to play. I'm just ready to go. I can't believe it. I've been waiting for this day for a while."
>The Gophers spent about two-and-a-half hours at TCF Bank Stadium Friday morning. Coach Kill and his staff walked the team through every aspect of how pre-game warm-ups will be handled. The team then took the field and went through a full array of different substitution and game situations.
>Today's walk-through of procedures at TCF Bank Stadium was so thorough, the team even timed the amount of time it took them to walk from the locker room to the tunnel for the run-out onto the field before the game. They then practiced running on to the field, complete with a United States flag, which was carried by senior Duane Bennett today, although Coach Kill hasn't selected someone to carry the flag for the home opener yet.
>The Gophers wrapped up Friday's work around 2 p.m. and were given the rest of the day and all of Saturday and Sunday off.