Thursday, March 24, 2011
Opening spring ball: Minnesota
By ESPN.com staff
New coach Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Golden Gophers hit the practice field Thursday for the first of 15 spring workouts.
Here's a snapshot of the Gophers this spring:
The big story: A new era begins as Kill and his staff take control. Kill spoke candidly Wednesday about the need to change the culture at Minnesota and expressed concerns about the conditioning level and academic standing of some players he inherited. "We're going to identity those kids that can handle playing spring football and the grind of school right now," Kill said. "I have to have my tail end up here making sure guys are going to study hall, going to class and putting a thumb on them." The new staff also must install new systems on both sides of the ball: a potentially explosive offense featuring multiple formations and pre-snap movement, and a defense that will be more assertive than the previous scheme.
Position in the spotlight: Kill said all jobs are open, including quarterback, but Minnesota has to make significant upgrades along the defensive line. The group fell well short of expectations in 2010, as the Gophers finished last nationally in sacks with nine. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys plans to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks and needs players like Brandon Kirksey, Anthony Jacobs and D.L. Wilhite to step up their play. The linemen should respond well to Claeys, who is willing to turn them loose.
Coaching changes: Um, just a few. Kill brought several longtime assistants with him from Northern Illinois, including coordinators Claeys and Matt Limegrover. The only Tim Brewster assistant he retained, running backs coach Thomas Hammock, left for Wisconsin, and Kill promoted Brian Anderson, his tight ends coach the past three seasons at NIU.
Keep an eye on: Safety Kim Royston. After a strong performance in 2009, Royston broke his leg last spring and missed all of the 2010 season. He received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA last month and has been medically cleared for the spring. Minnesota's defense is looking for leadership, and Royston is a guy who can provide some.
Spring game: April 23