The Minnesota football team donned full pads for the first time during spring practice on Saturday. They Gophers practiced inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex for two hours during the morning before breaking for the day.
After practice defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski met with the media to discuss the first three days of camp.
Friday, March 29
Derrick Wells is an unmistakable football player. His character-defining long dreadlocks and lightning quick speed make it obvious where he is on the football field at all times. Come this fall, Gopher football fans might think that Wells is playing more than one position on the field. There is a good reason for that, as he probably will be.
“Derrick will probably play corner and safety,” coach Jerry Kill said at his spring practice kickoff press conference. “Derrick's a big corner, which you like in the Big Ten. You like that big, physical presence. I think he's capable of doing both, and certainly in nickel situations, and so I think you'll see him at safety and corner.”
Wells played corner last year and finished tied for third on the team with 74 tackles (46 solo) despite missing some time with an injury. He also made two interceptions last year, while recovering one fumble and breaking up 10 passes. Wells is one of Minnesota’s most dynamic playmakers and is open to the move from safety to cornerback.
“I am trying to do whatever is best for the team,” said Wells when talking about potentially moving from safety to corner. “Whatever they need me to do, I am going to do. I played corner my freshman year and have to get used to it again.”
Coach Kill said he would not consider the move if he did not have confidence in his young safeties.
“We had such great play out of our young safeties in the bowl game,” said Kill. “We feel like we've recruited pretty well at safety in the secondary. So I think, you know, that allows us to have some flexibility with Derrick and certainly with mismatches. Sometimes you want him to be playing safety because a lot of people are taking their best receiver and putting him on the inside to get that matchup. So I think Derrick's got the flexibility to do both which would be a good thing.”
Whether he plays safety or corner, one thing is certain, Wells will continue to make plays and be one of Minnesota’s best players.
“If I move back to corner, with the coaching staff we have, I think I can be a big impact on the defense,” said Wells. “I need to let them coach me and listen to what they have to say.”
The Minnesota football team held its first spring practice on Tuesday inside at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex. It sure didn’t look like the team’s first practice to the public and assembled media, as coach Kill and his staff ran an up-tempo, efficient session. Players and coaches who spoke to the media afterward said Tuesday’s practice seemed like a continuation of the team’s bowl practices from last December and that is the reason why there was very little rust.
A few notes from Tuesday’s practice.
• The Gophers once again began practice with the entire team and staff taking a knee in the end zone to remember the late Gary Tinsley, who is a former Gopher linebacker and passed away in April 2012.
• Minnesota used three different quarterbacks and centers last year and one area where Kill said he wanted to improve upon was the center to quarterback exchange. With that in mind, the Gopher quarterbacks and centers worked at length on snapping the ball at the beginning of practice.
• Philip Nelson may be the presumed No. 1 quarterback for the Gophers, but he isn’t acting that way. The sophomore signal-caller, who took on additional leadership roles this offseason, says he is battling for his position like everyone else. He told the media that no positions are guaranteed and that coach Kill will play the best players. Nelson leads a young quarterback corps at Minnesota. He started the final seven games of the season last year and is the only quarterback on the roster who has seen live game action.
• Nelson also said that he is trying to help freshman quarterback Chris Streveler, who enrolled in January, as much as possible. Nelson – and fellow quarterback Mitch Leidner – both enrolled early last year, so they know what Streveler is going through this year in trying to learn as much as he can, as quick as he can.
• Coach Kill said he was thrilled to hear that Nelson said he has to earn his job like everyone else. Kill, like any coach, loves competition and position battles and pointed to his time at Northern Illinois as an example. While leading the Huskies, Kill played Chandler Harnish at quarterback, who was backed up by Jordan Lynch. The two pushed one another and made each other better and that same situation could be happening here with Minnesota’s young quarterbacks.
• Running back Donnell Kirkwood said he is down five pounds and is in the best shape of his life. He also told the media that this team is more disciplined and had a terrific winter conditioning program. Kirkwood also pointed the finger at himself when asked who needed to step up and become a leader on the team this year.
• Derrick Wells saw a lot of action at cornerback on Monday. He played safety last year, but Kill said he may see action at cornerback this season. Kill said there are two reasons for the potential switch. One is that Wells would be a big cornerback and that you need that in the Big Ten. The second is that Kill and his staff were impressed with Minnesota’s young safeties in the bowl game so much that they feel comfortable having Wells play corner.
• Marcus Jones and Jamel Harbison, who are both coming off knee injuries, wore green jerseys on Tuesday, which means that they were limited in contact. Harbison had a sleeve on his knee, while Jones did not. Harbison was working out with the wide receivers and impressed Kill that he was able to go the full practice. Jones, who played receiver last year, has been moved to cornerback, which is a position he played in high school.
• Four players – Ed Olson, Zach Mottla, Roland Johnson and Peter Westerhaus – are being held out of spring practice because of injuries.
• Former Gophers MarQueis Gray and Ernie Wheelwright were at Minnesota’s first practice taking in the action.
• Former Minnesota wide receiver C.J. Cesario is helping the Gophers during spring practice. Kill said that Cesario is watching film and helping with the wide receivers, as he hopes to land a coaching job in high school or at a small college.
• Trevor Olson made his graduate assistant debut on the field for the Gophers yesterday. Olson is a Richfield, Minn., native and was an offensive lineman for Kill at Northern Illinois. He started 54 straight games for the Huskies and was working with the offensive linemen on Monday.