Gophers open practice with several open positions

Heading into his first fall practice, new Minnesota football

coach Jerry Kill is making no promises.

The Gophers open practice Monday with every player knowing he

will have to earn his spot on the roster. No one is guaranteed

anything, a point Kill has made perfectly clear.

”I’m into competition every day,” Kill said Thursday. ”If

we’ve got somebody that can’t get the job done over the next three

weeks and has maybe been playing, nobody’s entitled to anything in

life. You earn it.”

Coming off a 3-9 season, which led to the ouster of coach Tim

Brewster after seven games, Minnesota is in transition. Kill was

hired in December to lead a team that hasn’t been at the top of the

Big Ten since 1967.

Much of his early tenure has been spent trying to instill a

stronger work ethic within the program. He hasn’t been shy about

telling his players they need to improve in all facets, including

in the classroom and the weight room.

So it’s no surprise that many of the starting spots don’t have

names tied to them, even with six returning starters on offense and

eight on defense. The Gophers open the season on Sept. 3 at

USC.

”I think there are some places you look out and say it’s going

to be hard to beat this guy because there’s not a lot of

competition,” Kill said. ”Other places there’s competition. I

don’t get into what’s open and what’s not. We’re going to put the

best player on the field. That’s what our job is.

”All of a sudden we’ve got somebody that comes in and is the

best player, we’re going to play him. If we’ve got somebody that’s

not performing, and we’ve got somebody that’s going to perform

better, we’re going to play him. This isn’t intramurals. This is

college football.”

Kill was blunt after spring practice, saying his team needed to

work hard during the summer. He is eager to see which players

followed through on his request.

”You’ll know pretty quick,” Kill said. ”You go three huddles

on the first day and you’ll find out who’s done their work.”

One of the few positions Kill has openly discussed an individual

player is quarterback. Multi-threat athlete Marqueis Gray has a

firm grasp on the No. 1 spot after being one of the

highest-recruited quarterbacks in the 2008 class. Gray has spent

the past two seasons alternating time between quarterback and wide

receiver.

How his teammates fill in around him will go a long way to

determining the success of Gray and the offense.

The Gophers return just two starting offensive lineman, guard

Chris Bunders and tackle Ed Olson. The receiving corps has been

decimated by injuries.

Last year’s leading receiver, Da’Jon McKnight, is still

recovering from a knee injury and will come back slowly this fall.

McKnight had 48 catches last year for 750 yards and 10

touchdowns.

”We need him to be ready,” Kill said. ”We’ve got to work him

hard enough to get better, but we can’t have him run down to where

he can’t perform. There’s a fine line in there. Spring ball is a

little bit different than two-a-day camp. Everything changes a

little bit.”