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Friday, April 22, 2011
Spring game preview: Minnesota

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Jerry Kill wraps up his first spring session as Minnesota's coach on Saturday with the spring game at TCF Bank Stadium.

Let's take a closer look.

The vitals: 1 p.m. CT Saturday (2 p.m. ET) at TCF Bank Stadium; admission is free, parking is $10 in surrounding lots.

More details: Minnesota will have the Floyd of Rosedale on display and hold several activities on the West Plaza. Click here for more information.

Three things to watch

1. The new staff: Kill has been candid about needing to change the culture around the program, and he has pulled no punches this spring in his team/player critiques both on and off the field. The staff has accelerated the practice pace, and fans should notice a quicker tempo on both sides of the ball. Kill has made toughness and finishing priorities, and he'll demand a strong effort Saturday. This staff has turned around programs before, and Minnesota fans should get a glimpse of their typically animated coaching methods in the spring game.

2. The defensive line: Minnesota returns some nice pieces at both linebacker and defensive back, but the unit will struggle again without better play up front. After ranking last nationally in sacks last season (9), the Gophers need a jolt and want to show more aggressiveness in rushing the passer. Kill singled out senior end Anthony Jacobs for his play this spring but said, "we've got to get better in that area." It's important for players like Jacobs, Brandon Kirksey and D.L. Wilhite to finish the spring on a good note.

3. The running backs: There hasn't been a ton of separation as four backs -- Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge, Lamonte Edwards and Donnell Kirkwood -- continue to compete. Although the coaches say they'll need at least two backs this fall, there is opportunity for a featured runner to emerge in this offense (see: Northern Illinois' Chad Spann in 2010). Bennett and Eskridge have the edge in experience, but the staff has wiped the slate clean and every back is getting a chance to prove himself. Injuries have hit Minnesota hard at receiver as of late, so the running backs should get plenty of work Saturday.