After Minnesota ran a multitude of plays but very few of them well last season, new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came in with a simple plan.
Step 1: Identify a feasible package of plays for the Gophers execute well.
Step 2: Stick to it!
In preseason camp, he's seeing the desired results.
"We’re really close to that point right now," Horton told me after Friday's practice. "They’re even calling the plays along with me. They’re anticipating what’s going to happen because they’ve seen a variety of looks from the defense to what we’re doing.
"There’s still a lot we’ve got to clean up, but the effort is there and guys are working really hard to be good."
Minnesota didn't dramatically change its offense after Jedd Fisch returned to the NFL, but Horton spent most of the spring installing his plan. He needed the players to continue the process on their own in the summer to make sure they had it down for the season.
So far, Horton has seen "great carryover" in practice, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Adam Weber, a three-year starter who had to reclaim the top job this spring after beating out MarQueis Gray.
"He always approached it like he was going to be the starter, and he did a great job leading the workouts this summer, getting guys ready for camp," Horton said of Weber. "He gets a bad rap. I’m his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. I don’t know many people who can work for four bosses in four years. He’s doing a great job."
The easiest way for Minnesota's offense to keep it simple in 2010 is to effectively run the ball, something haven't done well in a while. One of the nation's premier rushing offenses just five years ago, Minnesota has finished 111th and 104th nationally in the past two seasons, ranking last in the Big Ten both times.
Horton expects to use multiple backs this season -- Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge can be considered co-starters, while Horton said freshman Donnell Kirkwood is performing well -- and he's thrilled to have fullback Jon Hoese back in the fold. But it won't matter who carries the ball if Minnesota's line doesn't markedly improve.
The experience is there, but Horton, head coach Tim Brewster and others have challenged the line to be tougher and more physical.
"They’ve played a lot of football for us, all five of them," said Horton, who singled out center D.J. Burris for his leadership. "I told them when we started camp, ‘It’s on you guys. You have to take charge.'"
Minnesota also has to survive without record-setting receiver Eric Decker, whose foot injury last fall coincided with the offense's nosedive. Horton joked that he almost expected Decker to be on the field for camp -- "That’s one of the reasons I took the job as offensive coordinator," he said -- but acknowledged the major production void left by No. 7.
“From what we put in in the spring, those guys worked on it in the summer, and you can see a big improvement running those plays in the fall," Horton said. "They’re not thinking as much. And if you’re thinking, you can’t play fast. They know what they’re doing, and that brings confidence."