As players have started to establish themselves in fall camp, FOXSportsNorth.com takes a look at which Minnesota Gophers should make an impact at each position in 2014.
Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams missed most of spring ball with a knee injury, and, while he's back to full health, the Gophers are being cautious with their leading receiver from a year ago.
Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports
By Tyler Mason
MINNEAPOLIS -- Following Saturday's scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers football team now has 17 days until the first game of the season against Eastern Illinois. As players have started to establish themselves in fall camp, FOXSportsNorth.com takes a look at which Gophers should make an impact at each position in 2014.
Quarterback Starter: Mitch Leidner Others to watch: Chris Streveler Analysis: There was no question that Leidner entered camp as the undisputed No. 1 starter at quarterback, and he's done nothing to change that notion. While Leidner certainly hasn't been perfect -- the No. 1 offense failed to find the end zone in Saturday's scrimmage -- he remains well ahead of the rest of the QBs on the depth chart. His teammates continue to sing Leidner's praises with regards to his leadership in the huddle. Streveler, a redshirt freshman, remains the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback, but he's been shaky at times throughout camp. He still has a tendency to tuck the ball and run rather than work through his progressions -- something Leidner has gotten better at doing.
Running back Starter: David Cobb Others to watch: Berkley Edwards, Rodrick Williams Jr. Analysis: Much like the quarterback position, there wasn't much uncertainty as to who Minnesota's top running back was entering camp. As a junior last year, Cobb emerged from No. 3 on the depth chart at the start of the year to the No. 1 option for most of the season. In doing so, he became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006. He's continued to get plenty of reps with the first-team offense and hasn't done anything to cost himself his starting job. It appears as if Williams might be second on the depth chart, with Donnell Kirkwood as the No. 3 back. However, Edwards, a redshirt freshman, should get mixed into the running game at times. He possess speed that the other three backs don't, and could also be a threat in the passing game. Edwards has shown throughout camp that he's dangerous if he catches the ball in open space.
Wide receivers Starters:Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky Others to watch: Isaac Fruechte, Eric Carter Analysis: Both Jones and Wolitarsky received plenty of playing time as true freshmen last year, mostly out of necessity as the Gophers were thin at receiver. As expected, both have been lining up at receiver with the first-team offense throughout camp. With a year under their belts, the hope at Minnesota is that Jones and Wolitarsky will almost play the role of upperclassmen with such a young receiver group. Fruechte is the elder statesman at receiver, and although he isn't necessarily the team's top playmaker, he's a steady veteran. He's had a very solid camp.
Tight ends Starter: Maxx Williams Others to watch: Nate Wozniak Analysis: The big thing for Minnesota is to keep Williams healthy, which is why he was limited in the team's scrimmage on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore missed most of spring ball with a knee injury, and while he's back to full health, the Gophers are being cautious with their leading receiver from a year ago. It appears as if Leidner and Williams have established a good chemistry on the field, so it shouldn't be surprising if Williams is one of Leidner's go-to targets in 2014. Wozniak, listed at 6-foot-10, has mostly received snaps with the second-team offense. Though he still needs to work on his hands, his size is intriguing. Not many defenders would likely be able to stop a jump ball in the end zone thrown to the redshirt freshman.
Offensive line Starters: LT Ben Lauer, LG Zac Epping, C Tommy Olson, RG Foster Bush, RT Josh Campion Others to watch:Jonah Pirsig, Jon Christenson Analysis: Minnesota shuffled around its offensive line a bit in Saturday's scrimmage, moving Campion to left tackle while inserting Pirsig at right tackle with the first-team offense. The move was done because Lauer was sidelined with a sprained ankle, but it was important for the Gophers to look at a few players in different positions. The key for Minnesota's offensive line will be versatility, as it's very possible for several linemen to move around throughout the season.
Defensive line Starters: DE Theiren Cockran, DT Cameron Botticelli, DT Scott Ekpe, DE Michael Amaefula Others to watch: Alex Keith, Steven Richardson Analysis: There's plenty of experience returning to the defensive line, despite the graduation of Ra'Shede Hageman. The starting front four has remained unchanged during camp. Cockran, the team's sack leader last year, and Amaefula appear locked in at defensive end, while Botticelli remains a consistent presence at tackle. Head coach Jerry Kill had high praise for Richardson, a 6-foot, 291-pound freshman who got into the backfield several times Saturday in the scrimmage. Kill called him an "unmovable object" and said Richardson should see playing time this season.
Linebackers Starters: De'Vondre Campbell, Damien Wilson, Jack Lynn Others to watch: De'Niro Laster, Ray Dixon Analysis: This group was perhaps the biggest question mark on defense entering the season, and it still remains that was through two weeks of fall camp. Campbell has added nearly 20 pounds from last year, when he was an undersized, lanky outside linebacker at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. He's had a strong fall camp. Wilson should be the leader of this group at the middle linebacker spot. The backups don't have a ton of experience, but Laster and Dixon should receive plenty of playing time as redshirt freshmen.
Cornerbacks Starters: Eric Murray, Derrick Wells Others to watch: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Jalen Myrick Analysis: Wells has moved around between safety and cornerback throughout his career at Minnesota, but he looks comfortable once again at the corner. He was perhaps the Gophers' best defensive player in Saturday's scrimmage, intercepting a Leidner pass and blowing up a screen pass in the backfield for a loss. Murray was one of the team's best lockdown corners a year ago and should be again in 2014.
Safeties Starters: Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson Others to watch: Damarius Travis Analysis: Minnesota's secondary could be one of the best in the Big Ten this year, and this safety duo is a big reason why. Thompson has assumed the leadership role that was previously filled by current Chicago Bears safety Brock Vereen, while Johnson has taken a step forward from last year. The Gophers hope those two will remain healthy all season, but Travis is a more than capable backup.
Specialists Starters: K Ryan Santoso, P Peter Mortell, KR Marcus Jones Others to watch: K Andrew Harte, KR Berkley Edwards Analysis: No official decision has been made on the Gophers' starting place kicker, but the big leg of Santoso may be too hard to ignore. He nearly connected on a 59-yard field goal in Saturday's scrimmage, with the kick falling just short. Harte has been consistent, too, but Santoso appears capable of hitting kicks from a longer distance. After returning both a kick and a punt for touchdowns last year, Jones is back in that role again as a senior. Edwards' speed could earn him some time on kick returns.