With the home opener just a few weeks away, the Minnesota football team put on the pads and tackled for the first time this fall in the first scrimmage of the fall.
The Gophers are not as healthy as they had hoped to be this fall as some guys that were at the very least thought to be key contributors this fall as well as some depth guys that still aren't healthy. Left tackle Ed Olson was out for the scrimmage as were wide receivers Jamel Harbison and Devon Wright, running back James Gillum, and cornerback Derrick Wells. All of those guys injuries are minor and all should be back to full health by the time the Rebels visit.
Phillip Nelson certainly separated himself from Mitch Leidner on Saturday as he had the #1 offense running smoothly while Leidner and the two's struggled. Nelson started the day 6/6 before the one's slowed down a bit. Nelson and Leidner also didn't get many reps in the second half of the scrimmage as the coaching staff worked with the true freshman QB's.
The Opening Drive:
The first team offense started off strong. Nelson opened the drive up by completing a short pass for 4 yards. He followed that up with a 3 yard scamper and then Donnell Kirkwood moved the chains with a 4 yard run. Kirkwood then followed up the first down run with a 3 yard run. Nelson then moved the chains again with a 10 yard completion. Kirkwood then got three straight carries of 5, 3, and 5 yards for another first down. The 1st team offense then tried to pass on first down, but got good pressure forcing Nelson to step up in the pocket where he was then sacked by Theiren Cockran for a 1 yard loss. Nelson then had a 3 yard carry and moved the chains with a well placed ball to Derrick Engel under pressure for a 20 yard gain. Next play, Kirkwood carried the ball up the middle for a 2 yard gain. K.J. Maye then received the ball on an end around and carried it for 10 yards and set up a first and goal from about the ten yard line. The 1st team offense then ran the ball three straight plays getting the ball to the 3 before lining up to go for it on 4th down, but QB Phillip Nelson had to call a timeout. Following the timeout, Nelson hit WR KJ Maye for a TD from three yards out.
The second team offense didn't fare so well on their opening drive. The opening drive for the second team offense consisted of an attempted screen that was batted by OLB Nick Rallis and caught by the offense for a fairly sizeable loss, a sack, and on third and about 20, a 10 yard run by QB Mitch Leidner.
The Second Drive:
The second drive saw the offenses start from the defense's 35 instead of the offense's 30 as they had on their first drives. Kirkwood got the offense off to a good start with an 8 yard run up the middle which Nelson followed up with a 2 yard completion to FB Mike Henry for a first down. Nelson then followed up his completion to Henry with another completion to Henry, this time for 10 yards for another 1st down. Cobb then carried the ball twice in a row for 5 yards and -1 yards before I stopped taking notes to grab some pictures.
The third, fourth, and fifth teams:
There was a definite buzz the first time freshman RB Berkley Edwards took the field and there was applause afterwards as he took his first carry 70 yards for a touchdown. Edwards hit the hole hard and never looked back as RS Sophomore DB Steven Montgomery chased him for about twenty yards before his attempt at a diving tackle fell short. Edwards had only one more play where he had the ball in space on a catch over the middle. He made one or two guys miss before being dragged down for about a 12 yard gain. I think Edwards will see the field this year. He's too good in space to keep on the sidelines. In high school, Edwards had that extra gear, but some thought his size would hurt him at the next level. I don't think that will be the case if he can find those holes and space in the defense.
The next play freshman QB Chris Streveler ran for about 30 yards before someone got a hand on him and because he's a QB, that was the end of the play. It was hard to tell from where I was if it was something that actually would have brought Streveler down or not but regardless he is a great athlete and will contribute somewhere down the line whether it be at QB or WR remains to be seen but he's a great athlete. He will redshirt this year though.
QB/WR Donovahn Jones looked like a freshman at QB. He's probably fourth on the depth chart there but he could see the field this year as a wildcat type QB who can throw the ball or potentially at WR. In his one series at WR he ran a streak, beat his man but couldn't make a play on the ball as he was interfered with. The next play Jones ran a curl and was again open. This time he came up with the grab but fumbled the ball. Fortunately for him he was able to grab his own fumble and had a 12 yard gain but he was pulled after that.
TE Duke Anyanwu had a drop on his only target of the day. He worked with the third team. He likely won't play at TE anytime soon because of depth. He could potentially end up on the defensive side of the ball.
DE Hendrick Ekpe played well. He could see the field this fall.
The offense used a ton of different formations including the Maryland-I, Pistol, and Shotgun. The offense will be truly multiple this season and there will be a lot of motion as well.
TE Drew Goodger split wide multiple times lining up in the slot.
TE Maxx Williams will also be the halfback in the Maryland-I behind FB Mike Henry and in front of whomever lines up at tailback.
RB Donnell Kirkwood looks even better than last year. His vision on the field is something that was sorely lacking in Tim Brewster's time as head coach. Kirkwood's agility is also improved, he's a power back that can make guys miss.
RB David Cobb failed to live up to the hype he's received from the coaches just as he did in the spring as well. Cobb lacks the balance and toughness between the tackles that both Kirkwood and Williams Jr have already displayed. Once Cobb gets hit, he goes down.
QB Mitch Leidner has pretty good pocket presence but is quick to tuck the ball and run. He didn't show off his arm too much which was partially a result of being under quite a bit of pressure.
QB Phillip Nelson doesn't seem to lose any accuracy when throwing on the move. I wouldn't be surprised if this aspect of his game was more heavily utilized this season on some play action roll out passes.
Freshman QB's Chris Streveler and Donovahn Jones both have kind of funky throwing motions at this point. Both should be a fairly quick fix for the staff. Besides the funky throwing motions, both are great athletes and Jones looked solid at WR as well. I wouldn't be surprised if he played some there this season. The other freshman QB, walk-on Conor Rhoda, will likely remain at QB despite being at the bottom of the depth chart as he looked uncomfortable running the ball. Rhoda could develop into someone that could push for some playing time at QB down the road, but he'll have to work his butt off and have to beat out the scholarship QB's.
WR Andre McDonald impressed me again today, but he didn't work with the first team offense at all. He runs good routes and has caught pretty much everything thrown his way that I've seen and also has much better athleticism than most of the other WR's. There's a reason he was a heralded recruit and I think he'll be one of our top WR's by seasons end.
DT will see multiple pairings. DT Yoshoub Timms spent a decent amount of time on the field with Rashede Hageman despite not starting. Those two seem to pair well together.
JUCO transfer DT Jordan Hinojosa is by far the most animated player on the team. If he develops into a contributor he will be fun to watch. He's a bit small now and I think he'll redshirt this year. The defensive line is legitimately 8-10 deep, maybe even deeper than that.
The team is legitimately two deep at every position except for OLB and WR though both position groups will have a chance to prove themselves early in the season.
The secondary will again be a position of strength for the Gopher especially once Wells is back at 100%.
Brice Marich also contributed to this report