Competition will be in the air Tuesday as Minnesota kicks off spring practice. The Gophers lose 11 starters from a team that reached the Insight Bowl, and the depth chart is wide open entering the spring. Much of the attention will be on the quarterback spot, as three-year starter Adam Weber tries to hold off MarQueis Gray and Moses Alipate. On defense, the Gophers lose all three starting linebackers, both starting cornerbacks and both starting defensive tackles.
Head coach Tim Brewster took some time Monday to preview spring ball.
What are you looking forward to seeing when you get back on the field Tuesday?
Tim Brewster: This is really going to be a good group for us. It's a young group, a lot of talent in the group, they've really done a great job in the winter conditioning program. Guys came back off spring break in great shape. We had a great 6 a.m. run this morning. We've just got to do a great job as a staff this spring of developing these young guys. There's nothing complicated about what we're going to try to accomplish. Really just the fundamentals of the game, we'll spend a good deal of time on situational work, and then the thing that's going to be exciting for us is the competition. For the first time since we've been here, we've got some really good competitive situations at a lot of different spots. That's really exciting for us as coaches.
What are a couple of those key competitions we'll see?
TB: Obviously, the quarterback position, how that's going to play out, and see Adam Weber continue to grow and see him compete with MarQueis [Gray] and Moses Alipate. We're going to have great competition at the tailback position with DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett here now, and three young guys coming in this fall who are talented and have a chance to jump in the mix immediately. We've got some real good situations at linebacker: Sam Maresh and Gary Tinsley, Mike Rallis, Spencer Reeves, Aaron Hill, Keanon Cooper, Brent Singleton. The linebackers are young, but they're talented. That's going to be good to see.
For Weber, he's in a unique position, being the starter for three years and now competing for the job. How do you keep his confidence level up? What's his mental approach going into the spring?
TB: I couldn't be more excited about adding [new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Jeff Horton. Jeff is an outstanding teacher. I love his demeanor. Never gets too high, never gets too low, very down the middle. He's got a very quarterback-friendly personality. The system, there's nothing complicated about what we're going to try to accomplish, and it's really going to allow Adam to go out and play well. It's going to allow MarQueis a chance to compete for the quarterback position. And it'll be exciting to see Moses Alipate. But certainly Adam's experience gives him a leg up. Again, I've been really pleased with Jeff's control there at that position. Those guys are really going to benefit from Jeff's experience.
Do you have a timetable in mind of where you'd like to be at quarterback by the end of the spring?
TB: You'd love to see the position sort itself out by the end of spring practice. You'd love to have your starter in place. We're not going to go into training camp with a quarterback competition. We want to go in with a guy who is our starter, and I certainly think it'll play itself out that way. They're all going to get plenty of opportunity this spring to show what they can do. We're going to have some situations with the quarterbacks where the quarterback will be live [able to take on contact]. We haven't done that in the past. It will give us a chance to really evaluate the position well.
You've talked a lot about the offensive line and needing to upgrade there. What do you expect from that group this spring?
TB: There's really good competition there, and Tim Davis is going to continue to do a good job in developing that group. We've got to get better up front, and I certainly believe we will be better with another year under Tim and in the system. Ed Olson is really a talented young redshirt freshman offensive tackle. He's going to really push Jeff Wills. We've got competition at center, we've got competition at guard. We're in a situation now where we've got a little depth, and it'll also be interesting, we're bringing in some really talented offensive linemen in this recruiting class. I understand that it's not easy for a freshman to come in and contribute, but it's done. You look across the country and there's a number of young guys that step in and help. We're really excited about Jimmy Gjere. He's a very talented young kid. He'll be here in June, he'll be with us all summer. He's weighing 310 pounds now, he's almost 6-foot-8, very athletic. I'll tell you a guy who's going to get your attention, a tight end we brought in named Tiree Eure, from Lackawanna Junior College. He's been very, very impressive to this point in the conditioning program. He's 6-6, he's 250 pounds and he runs. He's very athletic. We think he's going to help us a bunch as well.
Tuesday in Part II: Outlook at wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line and the secondary.