Observations from Minnesota practice

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota kicked off spring ball this afternoon as the team held its first practice indoors at Rod Wallace Field. Players and coaches seemed amped up to get started, and here are some notes from the Gophers' first workout.

  • Linebacker Sam Maresh participated in his first practice as college player after battling back from open heart surgery last summer and a benign tumor in his left calf discovered this winter. Maresh worked with the third team and ran a bit gingerly, but he looks strong at 6-foot-3 and 235 and should improve throughout the spring. The first-team linebackers consisted of Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, while Gary Tinsley and Ryan Grant alternated at the third spot. Freshman Keanon Cooper certainly brings speed to the group, but he's a bit undersized at outside 'backer.

  • The Gophers' four new coaches are fun to watch, particularly offensive line coach Tim Davis and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who employs some creative teaching techniques. The line will be a focal point throughout the spring as Minnesota transitions to a pro-style, power run offense. The first-team line consisted of left tackle Matt Stommes, left guard Dom Alford, center Trey Davis, right guard Matt Carufel and right tackle Jeff Wills.

  • Stommes, who made a meteoric rise to a starting tackle position after switching from defensive line, passes the eye test. He flat out looks like an athlete at left tackle. Wills, a junior college transfer, is huge but probably needs to improve his conditioning just a touch. Tim Davis rode him pretty hard for not finishing a drill.

  • The NCAA prevents teams from hitting during the first three practices, so starting quarterback Adam Weber (shoulder surgery) participated alongside backup MarQueis Gray, who looks every bit 6-foot-4 and showed good arm strength on several throws. Fisch spent time working with the quarterbacks on quick releases and at one point had them throw passes any way but overhand, to expand the types of throws (sidearm, flips) they need to make in games. "Turn that double play," Fisch told Weber and Gray while working on their releases.

  • Running back Duane Bennett, who comes off ACL surgery, ran with the first-team offense along with fullback Jon Hoese, wide receiver Brandon Green and others.

  • The best line of the practice came from defensive line coach Tim Cross after several players jumped early on a drill with the blocking sled. "You can't make a mistake being an assassin," Cross said. "One shot, one kill."

  • David Pittman, Green and Marcus Sherels (out for spring ball after shoulder surgery) worked as return men during a special-teams period.

  • Guard Ned Tavale definitely makes my early All-Big Ten hair team. Nice 'do.