Rain and chilly temperatures kept Minnesota inside at the Gibson-Nagurksi Football Complex for practice No. 6 of spring ball this afternoon. Minnesota has yet to practice outside and today there were some Gophers who displayed an edgy cabin-fever attitude at practice, as there were more than a few post-whistle scuffles. Most of the fracas involved offensive and defensive lineman and lasted only a few seconds before it was broken up.
The quick melees are not something the coaches are concerned about. In fact, they will use it as a way to educate their players.
“As long as it is controlled,” said defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. “You will never see us just let them go. We do not believe in that. We will use it as a teaching moment. If that happens in a game, you are out the next game. That is one thing that coach pointed out to them today. We will also show those same plays to the kids again on Tuesday and that is all we will talk about. ‘If you do this then you are not playing the next game and then you are hurting everyone.’ But you are going to get a few of those. We really have not scrimmaged. When you put the ball down and start to play, you really do not have as many of those little scuffles. But the kids are getting tired of running plays off of scripts too. It tells you as a coaching staff that it is time to move on and start working on situations.”
Defensive line coach Jeff Phelps said it was just a matter of intensity increasing during the spring practice sessions.
“The intensity level goes up a little bit and that is how you are going to get better,” said Phelps. “One side picks it up and then the other side has to pick up their intensity level as well, and I think we did a pretty good job of matching each other’s intensity and getting good clean work in there.”
Before coach Kill addressed the team at the end of practice, he had everyone go around and hug and shake hands so no ill-will would spill over into the locker room or away from the complex. According to Claeys, it is something that Kill has done before in the past after a heated practice.
With the loss of starters Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis as well as experienced back up Spencer Reeves, one of the biggest question marks for the Gophers defense is the linebacking corps and who will step up to fill their shoes. While Minnesota has many candidates vying for their turn in the spotlight, Jack Lynn looks to use a season as a redshirt on the scout team as a springboard to success in 2013.
“The scout team helped me a lot because we were playing different defenses and different concepts. It really helped me to understand what other defenses are about and what I’m supposed to do. It developed me for learning this defense.”
The scout team may not be glamorous but Coach Kill agrees that the experience gained can lead to drastically improved play and, ultimately, playing time.
“I think there’s something to be said about paying your dues. When you’re in your first year or two, trying to grow into a position, you have to do different things, which can help you get better.”
In addition to gaining experience on the practice squad, the Lake Zurich, Ill., native has also hit the weight room. Working with strength & conditioning coach Eric Klein, Lynn has gained 20 pounds as well as an inch in height. The freshman now stands at 6’4”, 235 and believes that the extra weight has truly made a difference.
“It’s helped a lot,” he said. “When you’re hitting lineman, you’re not really moving them on your first day as a true freshman. I can feel a big impact right now compared to last season.”
It’s a good thing, too, as Lynn is expected to be a key contributor to the defense. In the absence of Rallis, Lynn and junior college transfer Damien Wilson would appear to be competing for the starting spot at middle linebacker. However, he isn’t letting that competition become a detriment.
“It’s all friendly. We help each other out in film, correct each other.”
With spring camp fully underway, the young linebacker is looking to zero in on what he needs to improve to take the next step in his development.
“Understanding the offenses and what they’re trying to do. How they’re trying to block, seeing things slow down,” Lynn said. “It’s slowed down a lot since last year. My head was kind of spinning during camp last year.”
Kill has been impressed with Lynn’s improvement from last year as well.
“Jack has had a really good camp,” he said. “When you talk to him, he’s mature. He’s not a guy that wiggles around. He’s a mature young man. He’ll continue to get better and be very good.”
Now, Lynn is prepared to take what he has gained in his first year at the collegiate level and apply it to the field. It’s clear that he eagerly anticipates taking to the turf at TCF Bank Stadium for the first time as a member of the 85-man roster.
“I’ll probably be speechless. I’ll kind of be in the zone because it’s a game I’m ready for, but I’ll still be speechless the first time. It’s a day to remember.”
For Gopher fans, Jack Lynn is a name to remember.
- by Mitch Praxl, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
The Minnesota football team has four quarterbacks running drills at spring practice this year in Philip Nelson, Mitch Leidner, Dexter Formean and Chris Streveler. The Gophers will also add three more quarterbacks in the fall when freshmen Donovahn Jones, Michael Conway and Conor Rhoda join the team prior to the 2013 season.
As far as Coach Jerry Kill is concerned, you can never have enough quarterbacks.
“You better have depth,” said Kill, who used three different starting quarterbacks last season. “We don't get to pick somebody up during the season and competition makes people play better.”
Of all the quarterbacks on the roster, only one has ever played in a game as Nelson started the final seven games of the season for the Gophers. The incumbent starter made his NCAA debut at Wisconsin last year as a true freshman and ended the season with 873 yards passing and eight touchdowns.
Nelson has been on campus for more than a year now and has game experience. That translates into more confidence and a more efficient spring for the sophomore.
“Last spring, you had to think about everything you had to do,” said Nelson. “Now we have been doing this for a bit. Now we can come out right away and start getting better reading coverage and start going through our plays. That is why these practices look more smoothly than last year’s spring practice.”
Trying to unseat Nelson are Leidner and Foreman. Leidner is a strong-armed sophomore from Lakeville, Minn., while Foreman is dual-threat quarterback from Texas.
“It feels good to be back out here running our own offense,” said Leidner, who was Minnesota’s scout team quarterback last year. “I feel a lot better. Coming in early last spring definitely helped me out. It was a struggle at times, but I was able to learn from it and after watching all those hours of film it makes it easier out here now.”
Streveler is a true freshman from Illinois, who could possibly redshirt this year. However, as evidenced last year, coach Kill will play the quarterback who he feels will give the team its best chance to win.