As the camp blog looks at the Gophers by position groups throughout fall camp, we focus in on the defensive line today.
It’s no secret to anyone involved with the Minnesota football program that rushing the passer was an issue in the 2010 season. With just nine sacks last season, the Gophers ranked last in the nation in that category.
Senior defensive tackle Anthony Jacobs says getting to the quarterback is always at the forefront of a defensive lineman’s consciousness.
“(Sacks are) always on our mind,” Jacobs said after Thursday’s fourth practice of camp. “That’s the one spot that we can get some glory is defensive sacks. There’s a huge emphasis on that. The players in the NFL now, that’s the one thing they were real good at is getting sacks, putting pressure on the quarterback. So, we’re all working hard to do the same thing.”
Claeys said Jacobs and senior fellow defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey have done everything asked of them so far.
“(Kirksey and Jacobs) are being great leaders right now,” Claeys said. “They had a good summer with Coach Klein. They’re in great shape. They have improved a lot since spring ball, just in what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve lost a little bit of weight, slimmed down and have played really hard so far.”
While the defensive tackle position seems to be in good hands with the first unit, Claeys is looking for more constant production from the defensive end position.
“(Defensive end) is where we’ve got a little bit of inconsistency and it’s still got to fold out and see what happens,” Claeys said. “But they’re giving us great effort and trying.”
As for the head coach, Jerry Kill is used to having a solid defensive front. He is looking forward to seeing how that position group develops throughout camp and the 2010 season.
“You’ve got to be good up front,” Kill said. “Where I’ve been before, we’ve been good up front and it starts there. We’ve got a ways to go. Part of that is just playing and getting used to having pads on. But there are definitely some kids up there with some talent. It’s a team defense. You have to play well as a team and it all starts up front in the defensive line. They’ve got to control the line of scrimmage.”
Jacobs says the way Claeys asks the defensive line to play could help the veterans and younger players to perform this season.
“(This defense) is freeing us up to play ball, to be more free, play fast and just fly to the ball,” Jacobs said. “I have an opportunity to play real fast, at the pace I like to play and also have the younger guys follow. They’re stepping up quick. They’re learning fast and they’re just as ready as I am.”
The old axiom in football is that games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Claeys echoed those sentiments, at least as much as it pertains to the Gophers’ defense.
“We have some good kids coming back. I think they run well. We’re trying to find the ones who will attack the line of scrimmage on every snap. All of them do it every now and then. We’ve got to get consistent,” Claeys said. “The better we get (on the line), the better we’ll be as a defense.”
Notes: > The Gophers worked for a little more than two hours in shells as the fourth day of the five-day NCAA-mandated acclimation period. The squad will be allowed to don full pads for the first time Friday. > Fans in attendance were treated to another round of board drills early in Thursday’s workout. > Friday’s workout will begin at 3:45 p.m. at the Gibson-Nagurski Complex and is scheduled to last about two hours. It will be open to the public once again. > Minnesota and Gopher Sports Properties announced the broadcast team for Gopher football for the 2011 season. Mike Grimm, who has already been calling Gopher basketball for the past few years, will take over the play-by-play duties. Darrell Thompson will retain his role as an analyst in the booth. KFAN personality Justin Gaard will report from the sidelines. Corbu Stathes, who serves as the voice of Gopher women’s basketball, will handle the halftime and post-game shows. Minnesota Wild studio host Kevin Falness will handle the pre-game show. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
Camp Blog Day 3: Looking At The Quarterback Position
Throughout the course of fall camp, the Camp Blog will endeavor to look at each position group on the Gopher squad. We’ll kick off with the quarterbacks.
While it’s only Day 3 of camp, head coach Jerry Kill has already identified quarterback as one of the question marks for the Gophers. It isn’t hard to see who the clear-cut front-runner for the No. 1 signal-caller job is – junior Marqueis Gray is poised to take hold of the reins of Matt Limegrover’s offense.
“(MarQueis) is an amazing story,”head coach Jerry Kill said after practice Wednesday. More of that quote in a moment.
But there are even a few question marks when it comes to Gray, according to his head coach. He hasn’t been a full-time starting quarterback since high school and Kill wants to see how his guy handles live, game action in a hostile environment.
The rest of Kill’s comment after he called Gray an amazing story came after a brief pause … “if he continues to go through the growth spurt. You’ve got to play on Saturday’s before you evaluate anybody. We don’t get preseason games like the National Football League. Our preseason is … we gotta go to USC. Until he gets game experience, he’ll learn and he’ll have to be patient. He’s gotta continue to progress.”
Where it sounds like Coach Kill may have to be patient is when it comes to figuring out who will play behind Gray.
“We’ve got to find somebody that’s going to be a good, solid backup … a guy that can push him …” Kill said. “That’s why we’re in camp. I don’t know if we have any depth. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area. That’s one of the biggest concerns we have on our football team right now is the depth at quarterback. Numbers are deceiving. We’ve got to find somebody who’s going to step up and play.”
While Gray may be the leading candidate for the job of starting quarterback, he’s not exactly counting his chickens.
“Any starting quarterback … nobody’s job is safe,” Gray said. “I can mess up one game and Coach Kill might feel a certain way and put (freshman) Max (Shortell) in. I have to train every day and come out and compete every day like it’s my last time playing. Competing makes everyone better.”
While it has yet to be seen who will climb the quarterback depth chart enough to see the field, Coach Kill does know who he considers one of the most valuable players on the team.
““Nobody ever talks about Adam Lueck,” Kill told the media recently. “Nobody ever talks about that kid. With the quarterbacks, he’s like a coach out there. He knows our offense better than all the quarterbacks we have right now. He’s made all our quarterbacks better. He’s a story. Because he’s an unselfish kid, a walk-on player, who is like having an extra coach on the field. He understands his role. Special kid.”
Notes: >The Gophers put shoulder pads on for the first time Wednesday. >One of the highlights of the day for the fans in attendance was a session of board drills early on in the practice. Board drills are one-on-one, man-on-man contests where players of similar size from the offense and defense work against one another to see who can get the upper hand. > Thursday’s practice will once again run from 3:45 p.m. until roughly 6 p.m. It will once again be open to the public. >Thursday is Day 4 of the NCAA-mandated acclimation period, meaning the Gophers will be in shoulder pads and helmets once again. Full pads will be broken out on Friday. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
The Big Ten Network's studio team of Dave Revsine, Gerry Dinardo and Howard Griffith rolled into the Twin Cities Tuesday for their annual preseason tour of each Big Ten campus.
It was just the second day of practice for the Gophers. While head coach Jerry Kill would have liked to show the fans in attendance and the Big Ten Network folks a faster pace to practice, the Gophers just haven't progressed to that point in Kill's program yet.
"I don't think we can speed up because we've only had 17 practices with a group of kids," Kill said. "It isn't like we've had veterans for 20 years, 15 and10 years. We've had 17 practices with about 30 new faces out there. We've got every coach working. We've got every player working. We can't go fast right now, not as fast as we're going to two or three years down the road."
Speaking of speed, there was apparently some discussion amongst some of the Gophers as to which player was the fastest. A member of the media posed that question to Coach Kill. The head coach may as well have said, "Who's the fastest? Who cares?"
What he really said was: "I'm not worried about it. I don't care as long as they play on the field."
But he wasn't willing to pick who could win in a race. He seems more concerned about who can track down an opposing running back or wide receiver before he breaks a big play or who can out-run an opposing safety to the goal line for a Gopher touchdown.
Notes: > One day after Gopher men's head basketball coach Tubby Smith was out to watch some football practice, women's head coach Pam Borton spent a good deal of time on the Gibson-Nagurski Complex practice field Tuesday.
>Former Gopher football coach Glen Mason was also in attendance. Mason spent a good deal of time chatting with his Big Ten Network colleagues. But he also had a lengthy conversation with Coach Kill after the practice concluded.
>The high temperature in Minneapolis today was 72 degrees. Coach Kill wasn't sure he liked the beautiful weather. "This isn't like two-a-day camp, this is like fall camp. It's too nice. I wish it was 90 degrees."
> The play of the day may have come near the end of the session. With the Gophers working on a two-minute drill, transfer kicker Chris Hawthorne lined up a 54-yard field goal and knocked it dead between the goal posts as the clock expired. "Special teams-wise, I guess the positive was we stuck a field goal today. That's a good thing."
> On Wednesday, pads will pop for the first time this fall. The Gophers will practice for the first time with shoulder pads. Once again, the session will be open to the public and will run from roughly 3:45-6 p.m. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
Camp Blog Day 2: Gopher Newsstand
Monday's first day of the 2011 brought a large contingent of the Twin Cities media out to see the team practice and talk to the coaches and players after the workout. Below is a look at some of yesterday's media coverage of the Golden Gophers:
Don't forget Tuesday's practice is slated for 3:45 p.m. at the Gibson-Nagurski Complex and is open to the public. The Gophers will practice in helmets, jerseys and shorts once again today. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
Day 1 of fall camp for the University of Minnesota football team is in the books. It was the first-ever fall practice for head coach Jerry Kill, who is preparing his first Gopher team for its season-opener Sept. 3 at USC.
Kill said Monday's practice session went well. But he also made sure to mention that the pace still wasn't what he wants it to eventually be.
Despite that, the Gophers felt it was a productive practice with two and three huddles working at a time.
"You get a lot of rep(etition)s," junior linebacker Mike Rallis said of the way Kill and his staff run practice. "That's really the key to football. You've got to get the repetitions down. Overall, I think it was an extremely productive practice."
While Coach Kill saw some good things also, he cautioned that it was just the first day.
"I thought it went pretty good," Kill said following the practice session. "We had a lot of people out there working. We had a bunch of kids that I've never had a chance to see and another group that we've only seen for 15 days. So there's a lot of learning processes to be made.
"I thought some guys looked quicker and faster," Kill continued. "But you always do on the first day. This is one day. Anybody can do something in one day. You've got to do it over a period of time."
Kill said he was just happy to have an opportunity to actually do some coaching.
"I got to be out there and be a ball coach, which I enjoy doing," Kill said. "I don't get a chance to do it very often. Going out there and working with kids, I enjoy doing that. Seeing kids get better and see how they respond ... that's a good thing. I enjoy that process."
Kill spent much of his time as a "ball coach" Monday working with the Gophers' youngsters. That meant a good number of hours after practice reviewing film of all of the more than 100 Gophers who were on the practice field.
"I spent my time - Coach Claeys and I spent time - with the younger players to develop their skills so they can understand what to do," Kill said. "We had our other coaches with the older players. We'll review it from film and teach from film. We've got a long night tonight and the players have got a long night tonight."
One Gopher was just thrilled to be back on the practice field and in the film room, no matter how many hours it takes is senior defensive back Kim Royston. The local product thought his career was over in the Spring of 2010 when he suffered a severe broken leg. But after numerous surgeries and setbacks and an NCAA waiver to compete for a sixth year, he is 100 percent healthy and happy to be in camp.
"Nothing's hard at this point," Royston said. "After all that I've been through, it's just a blessing and a great opportunity to be back out here, because ... I thought my collegiate career was over. I'm just not going to have any regrets.
"Guys sometimes don't look forward to the grueling days of camp," Royston added. "But after sitting out and watching last year, I'm just taking it all in."
Royston and his team will move on to Day 2 of preseason camp Tuesday at 3:55 p.m. The public will once again be invited to the Gibson-Nagurski Complex for that workout.
Notes: > Senior offensive lineman Ryan Wynn missed practice due to a death in the family. > Kill announced that sophomore offensive lineman Brooks Michel will not play this season due to a medical issue. Michel has missed time with concussions in the past. > Sophomore wide receiver Vic Keise made what may have been the play of the day. Keise laid out and used just one hand to haul in a pass from freshman quarterback Max Shortell in the back corner of the end zone. > Tuesday's workout will be the second in helmets, shorts and jerseys. Wednesday and Thursday will see the team in shells (helmets and shoulder pads). Full pads will come out for the first time Friday. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
Camp Blog Day 0: Kaler Tells Gophers He's Their "Biggest Fan"
The Golden Gophers held an orientation session as a precursor preseason camp Sunday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium and the Gibson-Nagurski Complex. As with any meeting of this sort, lots of talking heads were in front of the Gophers Sunday.
Chief among those speakers was new University of Minnesota President Dr. Eric Kaler, who explained to the Gophers how important they are to the school.
"You are critically important to the image we put forth to the community," Kaler told them. "We're invested in your success. I'm here to tell you that academically, there's nothing more important to me than you being able to make progress toward a degree and toward being a successful human being."
Kaler also had good things to say about Coach Kill.
"You are blessed because of the addition of Coach Kill and his staff at the University of Minnesota," Kaler said. "Most of you are returning from a season last year that was not all that we would want to have in Gopher Football. I'm convinced that Coach Kill and his team are going to be able to move this program forward in every way that matters. I'm going to be your biggest fan."
Kaler also encouraged the Gophers to take full advantage of the college experience and everything the University of Minnesota has to offer.
"I'm proud of you," Kaler said. "I want you to do very, very well. But remember, as they say in the (NCAA) commercial, most of you are going to go pro in something else. So take the time while you're at the University of Minnesota to engage in your classwork, engage with the faculty members, engage with your advisors, listen to your coaches and make this as quality an experience as you can possibly make it.
"This is a wonderful university," Kaler continued. "You're very fortunate to be here. I'm very fortunate to be here."
Kaler also announced that he will be accompanying the team to Los Angeles for the season-opener at USC and promised he would be at TCF Bank Stadium for as many games as he possibly could.
In addition to President Kaler's talk, the team received updates from members of the football staff on everything from paperwork to how to comport themselves during training table. The Gophers took part in an extensive presentation on compliance and how to maintain their eligibility, etc. They also heard from the athletic medicine staff, the strength and conditioning staff, the equipment staff and the athletic communications staff, among many others. -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications
Camp Blog Day 0: Orientation Includes Rouser, Former Players
There is a famous story about legendary basketball coach John Wooden and the first thing he did with new players. He taught them how to put their socks and shoes on and how to tie their shoes.
Former Bruin and NBA great Bill Walton said doing that properly would be "everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives." It was important for Wooden to not only tell his players what he expected of them and how he expected them to handle themselves, down to the smallest detail of tying their shoes.
"Today's an educational system," Kill said. "Not so much talking at them, but talking with them to teach them what it is to be a college football player. It's not anything new. It's just how you do it and what you do to make sure they take something from it and learn."
Golden Gopher football players got head coach Jerry Kill's version of that shoes/socks talk Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers took part in an eight-hour orientation session and unlike many other orientation sessions, this one included some hands-on demonstrations. Those demonstrations included how to keep and maintain their lockers, as well as where to be and what to do during practice sessions.
Kill said one of the reasons for making parts of Sunday's session more active was to help keep the team's attention. Perhaps the most entertaining of these sessions included members of the Minnesota Marching Band teaching both the new coaches/staff and the student-athletes the Rouser and other Minnesota songs and traditions.
"Sometimes if you put somebody in a room for two hours they don't learn very well," Kill said. "So, we put them out here, let them sing the fight song. They need to learn the Rouser. It's an educational system of what a privilege it is to play here at the University of Minnesota. It's important. This is their school. You need to know the alma mater, you need to know the Rouser. This is where you play. Those things are important."
Perhaps the most meaningful of the presentations came from a handful of former players. Ray Hitchcock, Darrell Thompson, Steve Lundeen, Ray Hawes and Mike Sherels spoke to this year's group of Gophers about Minnesota's rivalry games with Iowa, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin. They also explained to the Gophers how much the former players and alumni want to see them succeed.
"It means the world to us," Lundeen said about having the opportunity to speak with the team. "We are really optimistic. We are really thrilled that we have a football guy who is going to bring back the tradition. We're filled with optimism. Personally -- and I think I speak for my generation -- it's great to be included. I believe we can draw on our experiences and some of the traditions we had and the winning ways we had way back when that will bode well for us." -By Andy Seeley, Associate Director of Athletic Communications