Big Ten: Matt Carufel
Here are some notes and observations:
- Minnesota looked a lot more physical on both sides of the ball. The offense certainly is keeping it simple, but the line generated good push and the backs consistently had nice gains. A new-look defense definitely has further to go, but there were several nice hits in the scrimmage from defensive back Kyle Henderson and others. The BTN crew seemed to like the arrival of offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, who will really emphasize the power run game this fall. "For the first time, the schemes fit each other," DiNardo said.
- Head coach Tim Brewster wanted to upgrade the schedule at Minnesota, and he has gotten his wish this year. "It’s the toughest schedule in the conference," DiNardo said. Games against Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois and USC will challenge a young team early, but it also could help in the long run. "No one's going to give them a chance in a lot of these games," Griffith said. "This is an opportunity for the team to come together and rally."
- Junior running back Duane Bennett had a very good day. He made several good cutbacks and bounced outside for a nice gain in the scrimmage. He capped a long drive by the first-team offense when he bounced off defensive back Shady Salamon and into the end zone. Although Minnesota will use several ball carriers, "Bennett’s the better back right now," DiNardo said.
- DeLeon Eskridge also had some nice runs, although he also lost the ball following a jarring hit from safety Kyle Theret, who lays the wood and will be missed in Thursday night's opener. I also was impressed with true freshman Donnell Kirkwood, who spun off tackles well in the scrimmage. Fullback Jon Hoese had a big gain on fourth-and-short. Minnesota is certainly keeping things simple with the run game. "They have an inside zone, outside zone and they have a gap scheme." DiNardo said. "And that’s their run game."
- It was tough to tell how much Minnesota's run game has improved, given all the new faces in the defensive front seven. DiNardo likes the first-team offensive line, especially guards Matt Carufel and Chris Bunders, and he thinks Ed Olson will be a future All-Big Ten player and possibly a future All-American.
- Senior quarterback Adam Weber threw the ball well and looked comfortable in the offense. He made a perfect throw to Da'Jon McKnight on a deep route for a touchdown, putting the ball just beyond the defensive back's hands. He also threaded the ball to Troy Stoudermire for a first down in the scrimmage. Weber told the BTN crew how his injury issues last year changed his approach to getting treatment and preparing himself for the physical toll.
- MarQueis Gray had a good scrimmage as the backup quarterback and as a starting wide receiver. He had a big gain on an end-around play, where he cut back before lowering his shoulder into a defender and gaining a few more yards. Great quote from Weber on Gray: "Very impressed with MarQueis this year. It's never easy when you’re a quarterback. He's a true quarterback. ... MarQueis is all about giving it up for his teammates. You could put him at left guard and he'd have a great time doing it." Brewster added that he'll get the ball in Gray's hands a lot this fall.
- Henderson stood out on defense with several nice hits, and Ryan Grant and Kenny Watkins also showed some good physical play. The BTN crew identified defensive backs Christyn Lewis and James Manuel as newcomers to watch, and Griffith, echoing Brewster, sang the praises of defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, a converted tight end.
- It was interesting to hear Brewster tell BTN crew about "building a program from the foundation up." He talked about overhauling the roster after he arrived and taking time to put his plan in place. His coaching changes definitely have served as evidence, but it wasn't as if the cupboard was totally empty when he arrived. "We've had a lot of staff turnover at Minnesota," DiNardo said, "but the good news is I believe this is the best staff Tim Brewster's had since he's been here."
- Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State were among the losers in Big Ten revenue sharing in 2009, Scott Dochterman writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Offensive lineman Matt Carufel sees better days ahead for Minnesota's rushing attack, Phil Miller writes in the Star Tribune.
- Despite struggles in 2009, Michigan State's defense has coordinator Pat Narduzzi's full support, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Keith Nichol isn't the first player to make the quarterback-to-receiver transition at Michigan State, Kevin Bull writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- After recurring hamstring injuries kept him off the field in 2009, Ohio State's Jaamal Berry has his body in line after a visit to the chiropractor, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Time is running out for these five Penn State players to step up, Bob Flounders writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Penn State's young quarterbacks have a daunting task ahead on the road this season, statecollege.com's Mike Poorman writes.
- Some good Northwestern media day nuggets from the Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald talks to ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers about the "Wildcat Way."
- Rich Rodriguez and other Michigan officials head to Seattle to play some defense, annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein writes. Michigan picks up a commitment from tackle Tony Posada, ESPN Recruiting's Jamie Newburg writes.
- Interesting to see that Dusty Kiel, not Edward Wright-Baker, is working as Indiana's No. 2 quarterback right now, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star.
- Wisconsin backup quarterback Curt Phillips is making an impressive recovery from a torn ACL, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Al-Terek McBurse and the Purdue run game stand out in Wednesday's scrimmage, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
The Golden Gophers weren't just a good rushing offense, but a record-setting one. Minnesota didn't just produce good offensive linemen, but great ones like All-Americans Greg Eslinger and Ben Hamilton.
"We're definitely aware of the tradition here about running the football," said Burris, Minnesota's starting center. "That's why we're taking it upon ourselves to get it back."
Pride is the word Burris and even non-linemen like quarterback Adam Weber use to describe what's happening up front this spring in Minneapolis. The team's running game hasn't merely slipped off its perch, but plummeted to the bottom of the Big Ten.
The last two seasons have seemed extremely un-Gopher-like:
- 2008: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten and 104th nationally in rushing offense (103.8 ypg)
- 2009: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in rushing offense (99.5 ypg)
Part of the problem has been a lack of continuity. Minnesota ran the spread offense under Mike Dunbar in 2007-08, and then switched to a pro-style system, designed to emphasize the power run, under Jedd Fisch last season.
The Gophers are adjusting to another new coordinator this spring, as Jeff Horton takes over the offense. But Horton's top goal, one the players clearly appreciate, is simplifying a convoluted system and identifying the hallmarks for the unit to succeed.
"We know where we're going as an offense," said Burris, who started at guard as a freshman before moving to center the last two seasons. "Our playbook's a lot thinner, and we know exactly what we're doing on every play now, so it's nice. Every season, it's been something new, something new, and then this year we simplified it with what we've already been doing.
"That makes us a lot more comfortable."
Head coach Tim Brewster didn't hide the fact he wanted more toughness from the line this spring, and he has seen the group respond. All five starters are back and continuing to work in the top spots, but they're being pushed by players like Ed Olson and Brooks Michel. Returning starters like Matt Carufel and Jeff Wills are healthier, and massive tackle Jeff Wills has slimmed down a bit.
During an April 10 scrimmage, the line started slow but got stronger as things went along, creating holes for backs DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett.
Weber, who has a vested interested in the line's performance, has seen a difference this spring.
"They’re playing with confidence and they’re playing with pride," he said. "You can definitely tell, when it’s third-and-1, when it’s fourth-and-1, they can sense that they need to pick up their game a little bit, and we've been winning a lot of those battles."
After being pushed around too much the last two seasons, Burris and his crew expect to turn the tables this fall.
"As an offensive line, that's where your pride comes from, when you can walk into a game and you can run the ball up and down the field," he said. "That's when you feel good about yourself."
The spring features a competition at quarterback between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray and plenty of opportunities for young, highly recruited players to step up.
Here's a look at Minnesota's strong point and weak point heading into spring ball, which kicks off March 23.
Strongest position: Safety
- Key returnees: Senior Kyle Theret (73 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 passes defended); senior Kim Royston (86 passes, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 7 passes defended); senior Ryan Collado (34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended).
- Key departures: None
- The skinny: Minnesota boasts the Big Ten's top safety tandem in Theret and Royston. The two finished the 2009 season on a high note in the Insight Bowl. Theret had two interceptions and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt, while Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, including a forced fumble. Collado provides depth behind them. Although the Gophers lose both starting cornerbacks (Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels), the veteran leadership at safety combined with some exciting young players should fill in the gaps.
- Key returnees: Tackles Dom Alford, Jeff Wills and Ryan Wynn; guards Matt Carufel, Chris Bunders and Trey Davis; and center D.J. Burris.
- Key departures: Tackle Matt Stommes, center Jeff Tow-Arnett
- The skinny: It would be easy to spotlight linebacker or defensive tackle, positions where the Gophers lose multiple starters from 2009. But until the offensive line starts stepping up, this team is going to struggle. Minnesota has ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, which is simply unacceptable for a program steeped in running tradition. The Gophers have experience, but whether these linemen are good enough or tough enough to execute a new scheme remains to be seen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- When you script an offensive game plan all week, the worst thing that can happen is a penalty on the first play from scrimmage.
Minnesota not only drew a flag on its first offensive play, but guard Matt Carufel was whistled for a 15-yard chop block foul on the first play of the Gophers' second possession. So the Gophers started their first two drives with first-and-15 and first-and-25.
Those miscues just can't happen against a team as good as Cal. Minnesota entered the game averaging just 5.4 yards per play, and there hasn't been a ton of explosiveness in this offense. Penalties have been a problem, as the Gophers drew 18 flags in their first two games. They need to end that trend immediately.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The final seven Big Ten teams open preseason camp, including defending co-champs Penn State and Ohio State.
Here are three questions for the remaining seven squads during the next four weeks. If you missed Part I, check it out.
Camp opens: Monday
1. Will true freshman Tate Forcier create some early separation in the quarterback competition?
Forcier enters camp as the frontrunner after a solid spring, and he could further cement himself as the Wolverines' top quarterback in the coming weeks. He'll face some real competition now as junior Nick Sheridan returns from a broken leg and athletic freshman Denard Robinson joins the mix.
2. Who will step up alongside Brandon Graham on the defensive line?
Michigan brings back a potential All-American in Graham, who has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons. He'll need help up front, though, and the Wolverines need strong camps from Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and William Campbell.
3. How many true freshmen see the field this fall?
The Wolverines will be much more experienced at several positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in a strong recruiting class, and several freshmen should contribute immediately. Along with Forcier, Robinson and Campbell, running back Vincent Smith impressed this spring and hopes are high for safety Vladimir Emilien. Defensive end Craig Roh also could be one to watch.
Camp opens: Monday
1. Will we see any separation at quarterback before Sept. 5?
Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't planning on it and fully intends to play both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol during non-league play. The two signal-callers paced one another throughout spring ball, but there's a chance one man might be ready to take the job.
2. Can true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper emerge as the top running backs?
None of Michigan State's older players really took charge in the spring, though Caulton Ray's emergence is intriguing. Many expect Michigan State's heralded recruits to emerge as potential starters by the end of training camp.
3. How will the secondary look by the end of camp?
Dantonio has a very good problem in the secondary -- loads of experience. Eight returning players have starting experience, and that doesn't include safety Trenton Robinson, the story of the spring on defense. The competition in the back four should be fun to watch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Everything on offense starts with what happens up front, and line play will make or break the season for several Big Ten teams. The league loses a handful of standout linemen, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley, but several teams should reload nicely.
There's a lot to like about the top three, and I don't see any truly bad units in the league.
1. Iowa -- Shonn Greene was the nation's most dominant running back last year, but he had plenty of help. Iowa returns three starters and several key reserves from a line that propelled Greene to 13 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Junior Bryan Bulaga is the league's premier left tackle, while Kyle Calloway provides depth on the other side. The Hawkeyes boast more guard depth than any Big Ten team, a group that includes Dace Richardson, who has resurrected his career after a string of injuries.
2. Ohio State -- A major disappointment in 2008, Ohio State's line should be much improved thanks to experience, the addition of guard Justin Boren and some excellent recruiting. Boren brings a much-needed spark to the line and impressed just about everyone this spring. Center Mike Brewster is a year older, and senior Jim Cordle has shown impressive versatility in shifting to right tackle. The left tackle spot concerns me a bit, but Ohio State has recruited extremely well here.
3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lose starting guards Andy Kemp and Kraig Urbik, but they always find a way to control the line of scrimmage and return several key pieces. Center John Moffitt and left tackle Gabe Carimi will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Bill Nagy looks solid at one of the guard spots. If right tackle Josh Oglesby takes a step forward and lives up to his potential, Wisconsin will once again have one of the league's top lines.
4. Northwestern -- The team hopes its skill-position losses will be offset by a much better offensive line, which returns four starters. Northwestern did a good job of limiting sacks last year but should be much better at staying on blocks and buying time for athletic quarterback Mike Kafka. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are both All-Big Ten candidates, and the Wildcats boast plenty of depth after recruiting extremely well to this position.
5. Michigan -- No group will make a bigger jump in Year 2 of the spread offense than the line, which returns four starters. Michigan should be very solid up the middle with center David Molk and guards Stephen Schilling and David Moosman. If the Marks (Ortmann and Huyge) hold up at the tackle spots, a run game led by Brandon Minor will surge. Despite several player departures, Michigan has recruited several standout linemen who will provide depth this fall.
6. Michigan State -- I like the Joels (Foreman and Nitchman), and left tackle Rocco Cironi returns from a shoulder injury, but this group still needs to prove itself. Despite Javon Ringer's success last fall, the line was just average and must fill several gaps. Hopes are high for J'Michael Deane and Jared McGaha after spring ball, and if those players make progress Michigan State will move up the list.
7. Penn State -- The line rivals the secondary as Penn State's biggest concern entering the fall. In addition to Shipley, the Lions lose tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger. Only one starter (right tackle Dennis Landolt) returns to the same position he occupied in 2008. Stefen Wisniewski will be fine at center, but Penn State needs tackle DeOn'tae Pannell and others to make a lot of progress during camp.
8. Illinois -- With so much talent at the skill positions, expectations will be high for the Illini line, which drew mixed reviews in 2008. Right guard Jon Asamoah will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Illinois really likes young right tackle Jeff Allen. The team must fill a big hole at left tackle, though veteran Eric Block slides over from guard to center. This could end up being a very respectable group.
9. Minnesota -- Perhaps no offensive line in the Big Ten intrigues me more than Minnesota's, which is going through a major transition in both scheme and technique with assistant Tim Davis. The Gophers are returning to their roots as a power-run offense, but they'll have to adjust quickly to all the changes. Left tackle Matt Stommes could be a pro prospect if things fall right, and the mammoth Jeff Wills lines up on the other side of the line. Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel joins the mix as a starting guard.
10. Purdue -- Injuries decimated the two-deep last year, and Purdue used seven different starting lineups up front. The Boilers are much healthier entering the fall and should be much better. Young players like right guard Ken Plue gained valuable experience last fall, and he rejoins veterans Jared Zwilling, Zach Reckman and Zach Jones. The big question is how quickly the group jells as Purdue wants to stress the run game more this fall.
11. Indiana -- Much like Purdue, injuries hit Indiana's line especially hard last fall. The Hoosiers have two proven veterans in left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon, both of whom have started for three seasons. If those two can lead the way and young players like Justin Pagan and Will Matte continue to develop, Indiana will be much improved here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a noticeable buzz around Minnesota football right now, with a new on-campus stadium opening this fall and plenty on the agenda for spring practice, which began Tuesday. The Gophers welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a new offensive system, which will look more what fans are used to in the Twin Cities.
|Jeff Gross/Getty Images|
|Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is excited about the depth he has coming back this season.|
Head coach Tim Brewster saw the team improve its record by six games last fall, but the Gophers ended on a five-game slide, including a 55-0 thrashing at the hands of archrival Iowa. With 10 offensive starters back and several playmakers on the defensive side, Minnesota hopes to take another step forward this fall, but will negotiate what appears to be a much tougher schedule. Here are Brewster's thoughts on the squad as spring ball gets under way.
It seems pretty ambitious what you guys are doing this spring, with the new guys, the scheme tweaks and changes. Is it one of the more ambitious spring practice sessions you've been a part of?
Tim Brewster: I just don't think it's quite as ambitious as you think. We installed quite a bit of the offense before the bowl game. To me, what's exciting about where we're at is we've got some depth, we've got some experienced players, but more importantly, some really talented players coming back. And then when you add to the mix guys like [linebackers] Keanon Cooper, Spencer Reeves and Gary Tinsley, some of these guys particularly on defense, that's really an exciting thing for us.
You said you wouldn't trade [quarterback] Adam [Weber] for anybody in the country. You also think highly of MarQueis Gray. Do you envision MarQueis just sitting and waiting the next two years?
TB: No, no. We're going to incorporate MarQueis into every game. We'll go in with a plan on how we're going to utilize him. I brought [Texas offensive coordinator] Greg Davis up here from Texas, and I talked to Greg about how they incorporated Vince [Young] into the game plan in Vince's redshirt freshman year. He played every game, but what was the real thought process that went into it. We really had some good conversations on how to do that. It's a tough thing because of the flow of the game. You say, 'I want him to play the third series.' Well, something may dictate that the third series, you want to keep Adam in the game. But he'll make a contribution. Heck, MarQueis could play wide receiver. MarQueis could be a running back. There's a lot of different ways to utilize a player of his ability.
Does it help to have that reference point with Vince Young?
TB: Very strong similarities between the two. But the biggest challenge is this: We've been really lucky. Adam Weber's taken every snap. At some point, injuries happen. Is MarQueis Gray ready to step in and drive this car and run this offense? That's the biggest challenge that [new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch] has, making sure MarQueis Gray is ready to be a full-time quarterback. He's the No. 2 quarterback at worst right now, so that's a real challenge.
It seems like line play is going to be a focus on both sides of the ball.
TB: Yes, and I think we're going to be much better up front. It really helped moving [left tackle] Dom Alford inside. Ryan Wynn is a very talented guy who was playing right tackle. He doesn't need to be a right tackle. He'll play at center, possibly at guard. Matt Carufel, also [at guard]. And then you look at the development of [left tackle Matt] Stommes. Stommes' measurables, shoot, the NFL people who have come in here have said, 'Who the heck is that?' It's kind of like the guy's come out of nowhere. And [right tackle Jeff] Wills' development is going to be big. Is he putting himself in a position where he can be a starter?
Some people would look to the secondary and say look what you guys did there last year, but it sounds like you're almost more excited about the D-line and the linebackers.
TB: I really am. The front seven for us has got a chance to be really good. I think we'll be good on the back end, too. We're just a little thin. A kid like [cornerback] Michael Carter coming in, Michael's going to have to play as a freshman. And we've got some other guys. Today it's so hard to find defensive linemen, and particularly the young inside guys, Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey, they've got a chance to be really good. And then you've got [Eric] Small and [Garrett] Brown. So we've got four inside guys. And then I think we'll be better on the edge. D.L. Wilhite's a kid who redshirted last year and has got really good speed. And with [Cedric] McKinley, [Derek] Onwuachi, we've got some guys there.
The spring gives you a chance to find some playmakers, too, especially with Weber limited and Eric Decker playing baseball.
TB: Eric Decker's going to be ready to play. What I'm concerned about is somebody else being ready. That's how you've got to look at it, a positive thing and not a negative thing.
You mentioned last year's team was significantly improved. Is that the same goal for 2009?
TB: This year, we want to make the same improvement, but it's a tougher step, a much tougher step, particularly with a much tougher schedule.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota kicked off spring ball this afternoon as the team held its first practice indoors at Rod Wallace Field. Players and coaches seemed amped up to get started, and here are some notes from the Gophers' first workout.
- Linebacker Sam Maresh participated in his first practice as college player after battling back from open heart surgery last summer and a benign tumor in his left calf discovered this winter. Maresh worked with the third team and ran a bit gingerly, but he looks strong at 6-foot-3 and 235 and should improve throughout the spring. The first-team linebackers consisted of Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, while Gary Tinsley and Ryan Grant alternated at the third spot. Freshman Keanon Cooper certainly brings speed to the group, but he's a bit undersized at outside 'backer.
- The Gophers' four new coaches are fun to watch, particularly offensive line coach Tim Davis and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who employs some creative teaching techniques. The line will be a focal point throughout the spring as Minnesota transitions to a pro-style, power run offense. The first-team line consisted of left tackle Matt Stommes, left guard Dom Alford, center Trey Davis, right guard Matt Carufel and right tackle Jeff Wills.
- Stommes, who made a meteoric rise to a starting tackle position after switching from defensive line, passes the eye test. He flat out looks like an athlete at left tackle. Wills, a junior college transfer, is huge but probably needs to improve his conditioning just a touch. Tim Davis rode him pretty hard for not finishing a drill.
- The NCAA prevents teams from hitting during the first three practices, so starting quarterback Adam Weber (shoulder surgery) participated alongside backup MarQueis Gray, who looks every bit 6-foot-4 and showed good arm strength on several throws. Fisch spent time working with the quarterbacks on quick releases and at one point had them throw passes any way but overhand, to expand the types of throws (sidearm, flips) they need to make in games. "Turn that double play," Fisch told Weber and Gray while working on their releases.
- Running back Duane Bennett, who comes off ACL surgery, ran with the first-team offense along with fullback Jon Hoese, wide receiver Brandon Green and others.
- The best line of the practice came from defensive line coach Tim Cross after several players jumped early on a drill with the blocking sled. "You can't make a mistake being an assassin," Cross said. "One shot, one kill."
- David Pittman, Green and Marcus Sherels (out for spring ball after shoulder surgery) worked as return men during a special-teams period.
- Guard Ned Tavale definitely makes my early All-Big Ten hair team. Nice 'do.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota will open spring practice Tuesday with a new offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch), a new run game coordinator (Tim Davis) and a new offensive philosophy (pro-style sets, power run, physical play).
"People think I'm crazy, but I think it's a tremendous thing for our football team that Adam Weber is not going to get contact reps," head coach Tim Brewster said.
You're probably nodding your head about the crazy part. But let him explain.
"MarQueis Gray is going to get the contact reps," Brewster said. "MarQueis Gray is going to get forced development this spring. That's a great thing for our football team."
Gray, a heralded recruit from Indianapolis, enters spring ball as the team's No. 2 quarterback despite not taking a snap in a college game. An issue with Gray's ACT scores put his college career on pause last fall, but the 6-4, 215-pound freshman will be back on the field Tuesday.
Brewster said he wouldn't trade Weber for any quarterback in the country, but don't expect Gray to sit on the sidelines the next two seasons. He's going to get on the field some way, whether it's as a quarterback, wide receiver or even running back.
"MarQueis has got to put himself in a position where he can take control of our offense and execute our offense, and we don't miss a beat," Brewster said. "Because he's one play away from being our starting quarterback. He's an extremely gifted, talented football player."
Decker's absence with the Gophers baseball team opens up opportunities for other playmakers to develop. Minnesota relied on Decker at times too much last fall, and Brewster is looking for young players like Brandon Green, Xzavian Brandon and Ben Kuznia to step up.
"I didn't think we had enough dynamic playmakers [in 2008]," Brewster said.
Here are some other notes from Brewster's pre-spring news conference.
- Former defensive lineman Matt Stommes will enter the spring as Minnesota's starting left tackle, as junior Dom Alford shifts from left tackle to left guard. Stommes emerged after Tim Davis became offensive line coach in November and started at right tackle in the Insight Bowl. The senior is listed at 6-7 and 284, but Brewster said he's closer to 300 pounds.
"He's our best athlete in the offensive line," Brewster said. "The pro scouts that have come in and looked at his prototype ... he's got outstanding measurables. We really feel good about him."
- Linebacker Sam Maresh will be on the practice field Tuesday, which is an amazing accomplishment after he underwent open heart surgery last summer and discovered a non-cancerous growth in his calf this winter. Brewster isn't sure how much Maresh will do but said the freshman went through a rigorous conditioning session Monday morning with his teammates. "There's a chance that he can play [this season]," Brewster said. "I don't want to rush him back. I want to make sure he's 100 percent confident in the calf."
- Starting cornerback Marcus Sherels will miss most of spring drills following offseason shoulder surgery. He should be fine for preseason camp. Offensive lineman Jeff Tow-Arnett also will miss spring ball after undergoing knee surgery in November. Brewster hopes to have him back for the summer.
- Sophomore running back Duane Bennett, who started last season before suffering a torn ACL, likely will be held out of contact drills this spring. Same goes for Weber, who will participate in everything else as he grasps the new offense.
- Expect heralded 2008 recruit Keanon Cooper to play a significant role this fall at one of the outside linebacker spots. Cooper is still listed as a free safety but boasts speed and decent size (6-1, 220). Brewster said Cooper ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who Brewster said is on the cusp of becoming one of the Big Ten's top defenders, ran a 4.43 in the 40.
- Brewster expects transfers Matt Carufel (Notre Dame) and Kim Royston (Wisconsin) to play major roles right away. Carufel projects as the starting right guard, while Royston will be in the mix at safety. Brewster said Kyle Theret, who recorded three interceptions and 11 pass deflections last fall, will be pushed to keep his starting job. There could be a hole at the other safety spot, as Tramaine Brock has left the team because of academic issues. Brewster didn't say much about Brock, only that he's waiting to see how everything plays out.
- The team hopes to move into TCF Bank Stadium by July 1 and conduct several preseason practices on the field before the Sept. 12 opener against Air Force. "It's something that's been needed at the U. for a long time," Brewster said. "Fortunately, the dream, it's happened."
- Minnesota's schedule gets tougher in 2009, as it faces Cal and Air Force and adds defending Big Ten co-champ Penn State and Michigan State to the conference slate. The Gophers will not play Indiana or Michigan, and in 2010 they begin a series with USC. "I was a big part of making the schedule a lot stronger," Brewster said. "It does a whole lot more good than it does harm. ... I don't want to play USC every week, but I want to play a schedule our fans are really excited about."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Most of the major transfer news in the Big Ten has centered on players leaving the league, particularly at the quarterback position. Three prominent signal-callers transferred from Big Ten schools -- Michigan's Steven Threet, Penn State's Pat Devlin and Iowa's Jake Christensen -- and Wisconsin announced Monday that reserve quarterback James Stallons was granted his release.
But there are several key additions to Big Ten teams who will become eligible this fall. Here's a look at five transfers from other FBS programs who could make a major impact in 2009.
|Michigan transfer Justin Boren could step in and be the Buckeyes' top offensive lineman.|
Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol (Oklahoma) -- It's hard to blame Nichol for transferring from Oklahoma, particularly with that Bradford guy ahead of him on the depth chart. He returns to his home state and will compete for the starting job alongside sophomore Kirk Cousins. A dual-threat quarterback who has drawn comparisons to former Spartans star Drew Stanton, Nichol brings a unique skill set to an offense that needs a spark without Javon Ringer.
Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren (Michigan) -- There's already talk that Boren will be Ohio State's top offensive lineman when he steps on the practice field this spring. He started all 13 games for Michigan as a sophomore in 2007 and looks like a lock for a starting guard spot with the Buckeyes. Boren will be a lightning rod for the rest of his career because he transferred from Michigan to Ohio State, but his ability merits attention as well.
Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson (Florida) -- Quarterback Juice Williams mentioned Fayson as an emerging team leader during the offseason, and the Florida transfer will enter the receiver rotation this fall. Illinois boasts a lot of talent at wide receiver, so Fayson will need to distinguish himself in spring ball. But the heralded high school recruit contributed as a receiver, runner and return man for Florida in 2006 and should find his way on the field.
Minnesota offensive lineman Matt Carufel (Notre Dame) -- Minnesota's offense is getting a makeover under coordinator Jedd Fisch and line coach Tim Davis, and Carufel should play a role this fall as the Gophers emphasize the power run again. Carufel started the first three games of 2007 at Notre Dame before deciding to transfer. The Gophers' struggles on the line should create plenty of competition during the spring and summer, and Carufel will be in the mix for a starting job.
Northwestern linebacker Aaron Nagel (Notre Dame) -- A traffic jam at linebacker last spring caused Nagel to leave Notre Dame for Northwestern, where he joins his brother Brett, a redshirt freshman fullback/tight end. The Wildcats lose two starting linebackers (Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng), so Nagel will have the opportunity to earn significant playing time, which he wasn't getting with the Irish.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota will add six players to its roster when spring practice begins March 24, including highly touted 2008 commits MarQueis Gray and Sam Maresh.
The Gophers also announced Thursday that starting safety Tramaine Brock will miss spring ball, though head coach Tim Brewster expects Brock to re-enroll during the summer and be eligible for the 2009 season.
Gray, a gifted dual-threat quarterback, left the team last season after the ACT board flagged his test scores. The Indianapolis native passed the ACT in November and should be the front-runner to back up Adam Weber next season.
Maresh, a standout linebacker, underwent heart surgery in June to repair his aortic valve but has recovered in time to begin practicing with the team this spring.
"Sam and his story are amazing," Brewster said in a statement. "It is truly a blessing for the state of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota to have him representing the university and playing football. He's been through a great deal. I'm just thankful and excited that he's healthy, doing well and ready to join our program."
Linebacker Spencer Reeves, another decorated 2008 recruit, also will rejoin the team for spring ball along with junior college transfer Jeff Wills, an offensive tackle. Minnesota also welcomes two transfers, former Notre Dame guard Matt Carufel and former Wisconsin safety Kim Royston, both of whom sat out last season in compliance with NCAA rules.