Gophers football

Practice and a fashion show

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Gophers coach Tim Brewster was not entirely happy with Tuesday’s practice, saying his team did not meet his expectations. “It was the second practice this spring where I felt we didn’t have as much energy,” he said. “We didn’t have quite the focus. I made sure they understood exactly where we’re at.”

Here are highlights from Brewster’s post-practice chat:

– Brewster clearly has big plans for junior college transfer Simoni Lawrence, who will join program this summer. I asked Brewster if Lawrence will be a hybrid between a safety and linebacker, and he said that’s exactly the way he envisions him depending on the offensive formation. Brewster oftens refers to Lawrence as a “space player.” 

“If you’re looking at two backs and a tight end, we’re a 4-3 defense,” Brewster said. ”If you’re looking at three receivers, a tight end and a single back, then it looks like a 4-2 defense with … is it a nickel or a linebacker? For us, that guy is going to be Simoni Lawrence.”

– Regarding other linebackers, Brewster said Andre Tate is improving but he wants Tate to excel on special teams. Both Brewster and DC Ted Roof said Nate Triplett has had a very good spring. “He’s really taken some positive steps in being a better player,” Brewster said.

– Brewster has mentioned redshirt freshmen offensive lineman Ryan Wynn several times this spring and he spoke at length about him Tuesday. Wynn started at center but is working at right guard now and has made a strong impression. It sounds like he is pushing Otis Hudson hard for that starting job. “Ryan Wynn has stepped up this spring and really identified himself as one of our better offensive linemen,” Brewster said. “He has really played well.”

Brewster said Wynn is up to 282 pounds. Brewster thinks he could be at 290 by fall camp.

“He’s a very athletic kid,” Brewster said.

Brewster said the development of the redshirt freshmen — Wynn, Chris Bunders, Trey Davis — has forced the older players to elevate their play. He mentioned guard Ned Tavale in particular.

“(Tavale) understands the sense of urgency about where he’s at,” Brewster said. “Those redshirt kids are good players.”

– I hear the coaching staff continues to be impressed with Marcus Sherels at cornerback.

– Brewster said he expects Justin Kucek to be one of the top punters nationally this season, especially with his ability to pin the ball deep with the flop punt.

– By now, everyone knows that the new uniforms will be unveiled tomorrow at a 1 p.m. press conference. I’ve had a chance to see them and thought they looked sharp. They’re certainly not Oregon-like by any measure. They look modern but not over the top, if that makes any sense. There are six different versions, which I assume will be shown tomorrow. The list of “models” will include Adam Weber, Jack Simmons and Steve Davis.

– I was told today that it looks like former Wisconsin safety Kim Royston could commit to the Gophers either later this week or early next week. That certainly would not be surprising considering Royston and his family have made it clear Minnesota is his No. 1 choice.

Busy Saturday scrimmage

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Busy day at the scrimmage today. Here are news, notes and quotes:

– Coach Tim Brewster was happy with the overall play. He said his team has made a lot of progress this spring.

– This scrimmage was shorter than the one last week because the team basically ran out of running backs. Jay Thomas obviously is out (I have feature on him in Sunday’s paper). Damola Ogundipe has a broken collarbone. R.J. Buckner and Tyler Johnson are nicked up and the coaching staff obviously doesn’t want to risk starter Duane Bennett. “Matt Carufel and Eric Small were playing running back for us,” Brewster joked.

– Marcus Sherels switched to cornerback this week and Brewster likes what he’s shown so far. Brewster said the move was one of need for the secondary. “(Secondary coach) Ronnie Lee is really excited about Marcus and what he brings to the plate,” Brewster said. “I really think he can help our defense. Marcus Sherels is a good football player. He’s a very smart football player. Ronnie Lee said you throw concepts at him and he understands them.”

– Also, Matt Stommes moved from DE to offensive tackle. “He’s a big strong kid. He’s now weighing 280 pounds. Real long. And obviously we’re thin at offensive tackle.”

– The scrimmage was closed for media, but a person present said David Pittman looked good at wide receiver and also had a nice punt return.

– The team has one week of spring practice remaining. Brewster called it the “fourth quarter.” “I told them that it is critical that we finish strong,” he said. “We’ve got to win in the fourth quarter.” 

 – The spring game format will be 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s again. They will have 15-minute running quarters.

– Brewster called this the most physical spring practice he’s ever been a part of anywhere.

–Brewster likes the competition at defensive line and linebacker, which will obviously increase once the newcomers arrive. “When you look at the linebacker position, some veteran, experienced guys are going to be competing for jobs,” he said. “Guys like Steve Davis having to compete is a great thing. Deon Hightower is going to have to compete to be a starter. That’s such a positive thing.”

– Brewster continues to be happy with the play of QB Adam Weber. I talked to Adam afterward and he said his play is night and day this spring compared to last. “I don’t even want think about last spring anymore,” he said, laughing. “It’s a very bad memory.”

– The Gophers received a verbal commitment from Florida wide receiver Victor Keise, who visited practice Saturday.

– West Des Moines offensive tackle David Barrent also was on hand. Barrent has a number of offers from BCS schools and one look at his size shows why. Rivals lists him at 6-8, 290 pounds and I would say that’s pretty accurate. He is a big kid.

That’s it for now. Have a good weekend.

Busy week underway

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

The Gophers returned to practice Tuesday for the first of four workouts in five days. The Gophers also practiced outside for the first time this spring, which made coach Tim Brewster happy.

Here are some notes and quotes from Brewster’s post-practice chat:

– Brewster on Saturday’s 100-play scrimmage: “I was really pleased. I thought the kids flew around. Execution both offensively and defensively was pretty far along for where we’re at right now.”

– Brewster said the coaching staff has challenged RB Duane Bennett to become a more physical runner and to get his pad level lower. He said Bennett is getting better at that and had a big collision with linebacker Steve Davis on the goal line.

– Speaking of goal-line situations, I asked Brewster if he has a fullback now that Justin Valentine has graduated. He said the staff is looking at Nick Tow-Arnett. They also used nose guard Eric Small at fullback in goal line for the first time Tuesday. “He’s a load,” Brewster said. “He’s an athlete. It was kind of exciting to see him. He’s an athletic kid for a big guy.”

– Brewster said David Pittman will play multiple positions in the spring game on both sides of the ball.

– The Gophers are scheduled to practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Asked what he hopes to achieve in four practices this week, Brewswter said: “I want to be a hard-nosed physical football team. That’s how we’ve practiced all spring. Anybody who has been out to see us practice has seen a hard-nosed physical team. I think we’ve taken the proper steps this spring to improve next fall.”

– Brewster said his team’s health has been good so far. Only a few bumps and bruises. “To me, you get your injuries when you’re kind of being sloppy,” he said. “When your feet are hot, when you’re playing fast, less of that stuff is likely to happen.”

– Brewster on the impact of incoming jucos: “Any of the junior college kids, if they don’t really help us from Day One, then we didn’t necessarily do as good a job as we should have in our evaluation.”

– I had a chance to talk to running back Jay Thomas, who is rehabbing a torn ACL. Thomas said he’s a little ahead of schedule and began cutting on his right knee this week. I’ll have more on Thomas this weekend.

– I’m on Team Strib at the Wild playoff game Thursday so I won’t have a update after that practice. We have access again on Saturday so I’ll check back then.

Another inside “spring” practice

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

It doesn’t feel much like spring practice right now with the weather, and you have to wonder if the Gophers are going to be able to practice outside at all this spring.

Anyway, Gophers coach Tim Brewster was not real happy with the focus and effort today. It sounds like this was the worst practice of the spring. Here is some of what Brewster talked about in his post-practice update:

– Brewster took the pads off today because the team is scrimmaging on Friday and he didn’t feel like his players responded well. “I wanted a little energy and speed and we didn’t get what I wanted,” he said. “I’m going to reserve total judgment until I look at the tape, but I didn’t feel like we practiced with the urgency, speed and tempo that we had in earlier practices.”

– Brewster clearly wanted his veterans to step forward and show more leadership in that situation. “It’s disappointing to me that I asked the leadership of this team to take charge and I didn’t sense that we got what we needed. The leadership has to take over on a day like today and I”m not sure that we’ve defined eactly who our leaders are.”

– Brewster said he would like to get between 80-100 plays in the scrimmage. They are going to work on all phases but special teams will be first and not part of the scrimmage. “We need to get a lot of work,” he said.

– Brewster said he is eager to see his quarterbacks, particularly the backups. We talked a lot about QBs today. Adam Weber is the clear starter. It is his job. That’s no surprise. Brewster said the real competition is for the backup.

“I think Adam is really coming along nicely. What we have to do is figure out behind him,” Brewster said. “I think we have a fairly good idea about what we can get out of Tony Mortensen. To me, what I’m really interested in tomorrow’s scrimmage and the next couple of scrimmages is what we get out of David Pittman and Clint Brewster. See exactly where they’re at in this thing.

“Right now, Adam has established himself as the starter and we’ve got to figure out who will be that guy if Adam were to go down.”

– Brewster likes Pittman’s maturity, athleticism and intelligence. Pittman doesn’t have a huge arm, but Brewster said he throws a “catchable ball.” He said the coaching staff feels comfortable with him making every throw.

– Brewster on Clint: “I want to see what Clint can do when the bullets are flying around him,” he said.

– Brewster said the team has tackled as many days as the NCAA allows. He said he feels his team will be better tacklers because they will have more speed and athleticism. “In a lot of instances, we weren’t athletic enough to get in position to tackle properly,” he said. “We would get in position to reach or lunge or grab. That’s not how you tackle. To me, you tackle with your feet. Your feet put you in position so that you can tackle.” At that point Brewster jumped out of his chair to demonstrate what he was talking about.

– Brewster and his staff are really high on incoming walk-on linebacker Mike Rallis of Edina. He’s mentioned Rallis several times lately without prompting.

– Here is my early, early prediction for starting secondary: cornerbacks Traye Simmons and Troy Stoudermire, Tramaine Brock at free safety and Keanon Cooper at strong safety.

– Had a chance to talk to Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel, the former All-American O-lineman from Cretin-Derham Hall. He said he is very happy that he is back home and is going to use this season to get stronger and better at his craft while he sits out.

– Scrimmage reminder: Friday’s scrimmage is closed to media and public. Brewster said they are expecting 500 high school coaches to attend. 

Practice 5 notes

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

The Gophers returned to practice today and were in full pads. Here are some notes and quotes after Tim Brewster’s post-practice media session:

– Practiced started a little slow but became more competitive during an inside run period. They also worked on a lot of short yardage situations and finished with a live two-minute drill. Adam Weber took the offense down the field for a score.

“I thought Adam really handled himself very well,” Brewster said.

– Brewster continues to push Weber to become a vocal leader. “To me, that’s what the quarterback position has to be,” Brewster said. “It’s not, Adam we want you to do that. We’re demanding that of you. He’s working himself into being that type of leader.”

– I had a chance to talk to DE Ray Henderson, who lost 40 pounds last summer because of a heat-related illness. He got down to 220 pounds. Henderson said he’s still not quite 100 percent but is close. Brewster said he’s done some good things this spring. I’ll have more on him later.

– Brewster talked a lot about Ted Roof and his defense. He said his defense is not overly complicated for the players. I asked Brewster whether the defense last year was too complicated. “We may have tried to do too much early, too much at different times,” he said. “But that’s all trial and error. You have to see what exactly your kids can do. Obviously we played better when we did less.”

– In our daily Tramaine Brock update, Brewster said Brock is also returning kickoffs. He said a number of players will get a chance to return kicks and punts, including Harold Howell, Brock, David Pittman, Tim Dandridge, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Green. He said Jay Thomas will be in that mix once he gets healthy but he indicated Duane Bennett probably won’t return kicks again because he is the starting tailback with thin depth behind him.

– Clarification on Friday scrimmage: I was told by a school official that Friday’s scrimmage is closed to the public and media. However, high school coaches are invited to attend.

– A school official said the new uniforms will be unveiled at a press conference on April 23. The team is not expected to wear them during the spring game, according to the official.

– I had a chance to visit with Eric Decker last week for a feature that is running in Wednesday’s paper. Decker is enjoying playing baseball and has surprised everyone by how fast he has developed at the plate.

Practice 4: spirited and physical

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

The Gophers put on full pads for the first time this spring Thursday, and judging by the commotion during practice and Tim Brewster’s mood afterward, they liked the results.

Brewster began his post-practice update with this: “If you didn’t like that practice, you don’t love football because that was a great practice,” he said. “Hard-nosed, physical. I feel really good about what we accomplished today.”

Brewster called it one of the best practices the team has had since he took the job.

Here are some highlights:

– The team finished practice with goal line. They did four snaps (two from the 2-yard line and two from the 1-yard line). The defense won the competition 3-1.

– The team will have two live scrimmages and the spring game.

– The team is thin at wide receiver right now without Eric Decker and the incoming freshmen (Brandon Green, Brodrick Smith) who will play a lot. Brewster said Marcus Sherels and Ralph Spry have performed well so far. He also said Jimmy Thompson made a long catch-and-run Thursday.

– Brewster really likes the competition at center. Jeff Tow-Arnett is slightly ahead because he has more experience, but Trey Davis and Ryan Wynn are pushing him hard.

– We were talking about how the secondary could change completely from last season and Brewster said he will go out on a limb and predict that safety Tramaine Brock will be one of the four starters. I think it’s safe to write that one in ink.

– Brewster reiterated that juco safety Simoni Lawrence could move up to SAM linebacker.

– I talked to Tony Mortensen about long snapping and he said he’s getting better at it. He joked that he could use a 7-foot punter though.

– Steve Davis had a nice gash on his nose after practice. He said the coaching staff now makes each defensive position do five up-downs every time they don’t pursue to the ball. The linebackers, he noted, did 45 on Thursday. “They’re trying to eliminate loafing,” he said.

– We don’t have access to the team again until Tuesday so we’ll check back then. Have a great weekend.

Shells and thud

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

The Gophers practiced in helmet and shoulder pads (shells) on Tuesday in what coach Tim Brewster calls ”thud” tempo — hitting but no tackling.

Here are some notes and Brewster’s thoughts from practice No. 3:

 – The defense forced a few sacks against an offensive line that is relatively young and inexperienced. Brewster said there is good competition at center between Jeff Tow-Arnett, Ryan Wynn and Trey Davis. “All those three guys have a great opportunity to win that job,” Brewster said. “It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”

– Brewster said he likes what he sees from Otis Hudson at right guard. He said Hudson told him that he feels more confident now than at any point in his career.

– Brewster said the offense might line up Adam Weber and David Pittman in the backfield together and then motion one out and throw it to him. “There is no limit to the things that we can do,” Brewster said.

– Brewster said he likes what he sees from Steve Davis so far this spring. He admitted the transition to linebacker was hard for Davis last season but he felt Davis looked more comfortable in the final few games.

– Brewster said the defensive line will have some good depth once everyone arrives in the fall. He said right now the staff is counting on juco transfers Tim McGee and Cedric McKinley and freshman Jewhan Edwards playing right away.

– Brewster is particularly impressed with McKinley. “Big Ced comes in June. He is a physical specimen. He plays with a motor. He’s a little bit rough around the edges, but he’s going to be a really good player.”

– Another day, more high praise for safety Tramaine Brock. Brewster: “He’s a vicious player on the field. I love his temperament. He absolutely plays the game the way I see the game being played, with tremendous toughness and passion. He is an absolute joy to coach.”

– Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant and son Ryan attended practice.

– Brewster said juco transfer Simoni Lawrence can play linebacker or safety. With so many teams running the spread, Brewster said the SAM linebacker walks out on slot receiver. “The SAM linebacker is basically a strong safety,” Brewster said. “He’s not a box player. He’s a space player.”

– I ran into former safety Brandon Owens at the facility. Owens, whose career was cut short by a devastating shoulder injury, said he would like to get into coaching. Brewster said he would help Owens pursue that career but he said Owens needs to commit himself to getting his degree.

Pittman likes challenge

Monday, March 31st, 2008

The Gophers return to spring practice tomorrow for their first workout in full pads. I’ll check in afterward with an update.

I had a chance to sit down and talk with junior college transfer David Pittman for the first time and I came away impressed. He seemed like a bright guy who is confident but not cocky.

I asked Pittman about playing different positions and he said he loves the challenge. He said the Gophers spread offense is similar to the one he ran at Pasadena City College so the only real adjustment is learning new terminology.

It will be interesting to see how Tim Brewster and OC Mike Dunbar incorporate Pittman into this offense.

I’ll have a profile of Pittman in Tuesday’s paper.

Practice 1 in the books

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Gophers coach Tim Brewster said his team concluded its first practice of the spring by doing a no-huddle session. That tells you how much farther ahead the offense is this spring. A year ago the offense was trying to figure out which way was up on the first day.

Here are some of Brewster’s thoughts after the first practice.

– Brewster was excited about the play of QB Adam Weber, saying he looks so much more comfortable this spring. Weber is getting 50 percent of the reps and the other QBs are splitting the rest. Brewster said he has challenged Weber to be more of a vocal leader and he saw some of that today. Said he took charge of the huddle more.

– It’s obvious that junior college safety Tramaine Brock has already become a Brewster favorite. Brewster had more praise for him today. He said Brock can play either safety position and is also fast enough to play cornerback. “He is a special football player, a special guy,” Brewster said. “He’s extremely confident. He has great, explosive twitch to his body.”

– Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg had a strong first day and made a few plays at the end of practice. I chatted with Willie afterward and he said his right wrist finally feels good. He said he wears a brace in practice but he has no limitations with it.

– Willie said the new defense is a lot different for the line. “(Last year) we did a right and left D-end and a right and left D-tackle,” he said. “Now, we have a power (end ), a rush and a tackle and a nose,” VanDeSteeg said. “It’s a big difference for us. The rush is more of like a standup linebacker. That kind of stuff. It’s way different.”

Tough assignment

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

I’m doing the Gophers preview for Athlon magazine again this spring and the deadline is about 10 days away. The magazine, as usual, asks us to give what the two-deep will look when the season starts.

This is easily the hardest year to project a two-deep since I’ve been covering the team, especially for the defense. The Gophers signed 31 players and many of them are expected to either start or be key backups. I think you will see four new starters in the secondary, possibly two new starters at wide receiver and maybe one or two new starters at linebacker.

 But it’s hard to know how it will all play out until everyone gets to campus and puts on pads and start to hit.

– I’m heading over to the first practice of spring later this afternoon. Media is not allowed to watch but we can do interviews afterward. I’ll be writing about the defense for tomorrow. I was talking to Deon Hightower the other day  and he said something that amazed me. Hightower will be playing under his fourth defensive coordinator in Ted Roof. He had Greg Hudson for one year, David Lockwood for two, Everett Withers last season and now Roof in his final season. I can’t imagine that happens too often, where a player will have four different coordinators in their career.

– The Virginian-Pilot newspaper had an update on running back recruit Kevin Whaley that quoted police as saying they don’t believe the shooting was random. Whaley was shot in the leg outside a nightclub around 2 a.m. Police spokesman  Adam Bernstein told the newspaper that an incident inside the club might have proceeded the shooting and that police don’t believe it was a “random drive-by.” Bernstein said the police are getting little cooperation from anyone in their investigation. Gophers coach Tim Brewster said Tuesday that he talked to Whaley and he is in good spirits.