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Fisch puts Gophers through the motions

4/28/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice felt more like spring training for Minnesota junior quarterback Adam Weber.

To loosen his arm before each Gophers workout, Weber warmed up by throwing a baseball. To get his hips more into each pass, Weber swung a baseball bat and hit soft toss into a fence. About the only thing Weber didn't do was field grounders, though he might want to bring his mitt to preseason camp.

You never know what Minnesota's new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will ask for next.

The baseball drills are part of Fisch's effort to create a more natural and efficient throwing motion for Minnesota's quarterbacks. He's not overly concerned with rigid throwing mechanics. He wants the quarterbacks to be comfortable and quick with the ball.

"My belief is you've got to throw it naturally, like you've been brought up when you were a kid," Fisch said. "And the first ball you ever throw in your life is a round one. I've always thought that your best quarterbacks are your shortstops, not your pitchers. They're the most natural throwers.

"I'm going to see who can play shortstop."

Weber admits he has never prepared for football by throwing a baseball, but he rolled with it. Together, they adjusted Weber's throwing motion to speed up his release.

"It's holding the ball in a comfortable position and just making comfortable throws, using my full body and not trying to be very mechanical," Weber said.

Weber, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree last fall, was held out of contact this spring following surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. But he made good use of the 15 workouts, spending time with Fisch and trying to grasp the many changes on offense.

Minnesota has scrapped the spread offense and Fisch, who previously served as the Denver Broncos' wide receivers coach, is installing a pro-style system that will feature more power run. The terminology is completely new, and the complex scheme demands a lot of each player, particularly Weber and backup MarQueis Gray.

But Weber has seen encouraging signs this spring, especially from younger players like Gray, Troy Stoudermire, Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight.

"We have a lot of time before our first game, and we know that," said Weber, a two-year starter who recorded 2,761 pass yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. "It's all about really pushing ourselves. If we can grow together and not use any excuses like it's a new offense or anything, I believe we can do something truly special."

The baseball drills are only part of Fisch's innovative teaching approach. He also puts together PowerPoint presentations and elaborate video cut-ups for the Gophers, just like he did with Broncos players last year.

It might border on sensory overload, but players typically respond well.

"We're all visual learners," Fisch said. "The most important thing is 3-D and color and all those things. They're not just black-and-white sheets of paper any longer. We try to be Y2K-compliant. We try to play to their strengths."

Fisch expects some growing pains and acknowledges his system is "very different" than what the Gophers have done in the past. Weber enjoyed success his first two seasons as the starter, but he doesn't resist change or Fisch, whose background helps.

"When he was in the NFL, he'd go to pro [scouting] days," Weber said. "He knows what he's looking for in somebody or what teams are looking for at the next level. It's nice to have that guy who's been there and done it.

"He's got a good feel for what needs to be done and how things need to look."