Wednesday, April 20, 2011
New Gophers staff picking up the pace
By Adam Rittenberg
Jerry Kill likes to judge people when their backs are to the wall.
He has had plenty of opportunity this spring at Minnesota.
"They've played a game every day in practice because we take a lot of repetitions," Kill said. "Some practices, we may be playing two games."
Minnesota's new staff has tried to maximize every second of the 15 practices they're afforded in the spring.
During team periods, of which there are quite a few, Minnesota employs a two-huddle system. Plays are called simultaneously for two groups of offensive players. When the first group completes a play, the second group is already running to the line of scrimmage.
"It's like a gauntlet," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "We probably get double the amount of reps, if not more, than what they're used to in a two-hour practice."
Limegrover adds that Minnesota players had been used to NFL-style practices, where the starters receive a huge chunk of the reps and the second- and third-stringers take what they can get, time permitting. The new staff has placed a premium on building depth, so they're cycling through different personnel groupings as quickly as possible.
The pace places the greatest strain on the defense, which isn't overhauling its personnel as quickly as the offense. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys likes the setup because it helps his players prepare for no-huddle offenses, the two-minute drill and other fast-paced game scenarios.
"Everybody has that in their package now where they change the tempo of the game," Claeys said. "As soon as we can get the ball back and get it down, it's a pretty quick pace where they don't have much time to get in the defensive call. It pays off as far as preparing kids for the spread and the no-huddle, and when you get in two-minute and things like that, you don't get in panic mode."
Kill expressed concern about players' conditioning level before the spring, and while there still are strides to be made, there has been improvement.
When spring ball started, defenders could only go about four plays in a row before fatigue set in and mistakes surfaced. Claeys now can leave one group on the field for 8-10 consecutive plays.
"We get lined up better in the hurry-up stuff," he said. "We at least have a body where the body should be."
Players noticed an immediate change in the tempo this spring.
"Once guys hit the football field, there's running," quarterback MarQueis Gray. "There's no walking whatsoever. You take over 100 snaps in practice. That says a lot."
Gray describes the up-tempo practices as "fun," saying they fly by. Wonder if he'd say the same thing if he still were playing receiver?
Top wideout Da'Jon McKnight noticed an increase in vertical routes in Minnesota's new scheme. Vertical = lots of running.
"You've got to get back quickly," said McKnight, who recently has been sidelined with a sprained knee. "If you go deep, hustle back and go again."
Kill will be watching.
"I still don't think we understand how to play hard all the time," Kill said. "You can't play two downs and take two off. It's a process. I don't think you can develop that in 15 days. We're still not there, but our kids are learning how to practice better."