Cobb leads talented Gophers rushing corps at outset of spring drills

Minnesota tailback David Cobb carried 237 times for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Before the 2013 campaign, he'd carried the ball a total of 11 times.

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MINNEAPOLIS — At this point a year ago, David Cobb was clueless.

The Gophers running back had no idea he was on the verge of landing a starting job, not the slightest inkling he’d wind up becoming the first Minnesota running back since 2006 to rush for more than 1,000 yards and morph into one of the Big Ten’s top tailbacks.

No, last spring, Cobb was just wondering when — and if — he’d fill a meaningful role.

"I think a year ago there was a lot of worry and a lot of stress," said Cobb, who carried 237 times for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns last season. "Just as everyone not playing, you want to come out here, and you want to prove yourself and you want to play, whereas this year, I’m taking it as I know the coaches, they know what I can do."

So unlike last season, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound senior entered the first day of spring practice with a considerable leg up on the top gig among a deep stable of returning running backs. Before 2013, he’d carried the ball a total of 11 times.

Consequently, Cobb began last year third on the depth chart behind Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. But Kirkwood was hurt in the season opener, and Williams never evolved into much more than a short-yardage specialist.

That opened the door for Cobb, and the Killeen, Texas native busted through it with that quick first step of his. He eclipsed the century mark six times in eight Big Ten contests and accumulated the 12th-most ground yards in Minnesota history, finishing as Division I football’s No. 27 rusher.

The achievements on his resume mean a lot less anxiety as the Gophers get spring workouts rolling this week, he said. But, Cobb added, "you can’t come out there and get complacent; everybody has to push each other and bring the best out of everyone."

Kirkwood — who appeared in 11 games but finished with 120 yards rushing last year, a season after gaining 926 — will want his No. 1 gig back. Williams has two more years to prove he can be more than a spot-duty power back. Redshirt freshman Berkeley Edwards should figure heavily into the mix next season, coach Jerry Kill said, and incoming five-star recruit Jeff Jones is the kind of talent that could garner immediate playing time.

"I think David’s gonna do a good job, but we’re good at running back," Kill said. "We’ve got some flexibility. . . . I think that our job is to get the right people the football, and we’ve got to do a better job of that, and we’ve got a good plan."

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That includes heavy doses of Cobb inside and outside of the tackles and moving Edwards all over formations. "He’s lightning in a bottle," Kill said of Edwards.

No matter who lines up in the backfield, he’ll have the benefit of a seasoned offensive line that lost only tackle Ed Olson to graduation.

"When you see those guys and they’re coming back and they have the chemistry and they’ve gelled together like that, as running backs, all you can do is sit back and smile," Cobb said.

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