Kill wants real-game feel for Gophersâ€™ spring exhibition
MINNEAPOLIS — The weather finally feels like spring, just in time for the University of Minnesota's 1 p.m. Saturday spring football game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers are coming off their first bowl game in several years and have spent this spring building on last year's six-win season. Like any team, Minnesota had plenty of question marks entering this spring, and coach Jerry Kill hopes he's answered at least some of them.
Five things to watch Saturday when the Gophers take the field:
1. Will this feel like a real game?
Many spring football games aren't so much games as glorified practices, but Kill has said he wants to make this as much like an actual game as he can. That means 15-minute quarters with two teams — a maroon team and a white team. Kill added that the clock may be shortened because the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network. In the case of overtime, he said the ball will be placed on the 3-yard line to see if either side can stop the other. One thing differentiating it from a real game, however, is that the quarterbacks won't be taken to the ground, which is typical for spring practices and spring games.
"Otherwise, it'll be a full-fledged scrimmage," Kill said Friday on his KFAN radio show.
2. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks.
Minnesota used three different quarterbacks — MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Philip Nelson — in 2012. Nelson eventually wound up starting the majority of Minnesota's games as a true freshman and appears to have a hold on the Gophers' top quarterback job. But Minnesota seems to have a bit of depth at the position in redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and true freshman Chris Streveler. This will be Gophers fans' first chance to see Streveler, one of a few players who enrolled early. The game will also offer an opportunity to see the progress made by Nelson as he has had a full spring as the team's top quarterback.
3. Who will step up at the skill positions?
Minnesota continues to look for depth at wide receiver and seems to have established a good rotation at running back in Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams. But is there a running back or receiver who might turn some heads Saturday? The Gophers will need production at wide receiver from players other than Derrick Engel and Isaac Fruechte. That could come from K.J. Maye, who has spent all spring fully committed to wide receiver after playing both receiver and running back last year. Kill has also been pleased with the springs receivers Logan Hutton and Victor Keise have had. The same goes for running backs David Cobb and Cole Banham, who will have a chance to excel Saturday in front of the Gophers faithful at TCF Bank Stadium.
4. Who won't be putting on the pads?
The Gophers have been bitten by the injury bug this spring as several players have gone down during camp and several others did not get on the field at all due to injuries. The list of injured includes running back James Gillum, wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts and offensive linemen Jonah Pirsig and Jon Christenson.
"We're heading in the other direction (injury-wise)," Kill said. "But that's pretty much how spring ball goes."
With several players dinged up and others who have missed time due to illness, there's no doubt Kill and his staff will be cautious about who they play Saturday. Though spring practice is an important part of the learning process, there's no point in rushing someone back too soon from an injury.
5. Finally, some outdoor football.
This long, seemingly never-ending winter has wreaked havoc on spring sports in the Upper Midwest. The Minnesota Twins have already had three games postponed at Target Field, and high schools all across Minnesota have been forced to wait for the snow to melt before they could play baseball, softball and golf.
The same goes for the Gophers, who have yet to practice outdoors this spring. Instead, Minnesota has been confined to the indoor facility at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex. Saturday's spring game at TCF Bank Stadium should be played in ideal weather — forecasts are calling for temperatures in the low 70s, easily the best weather of the year.
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