Gopher Football practice notes: 8/8

The Gopher Football team held their second practice of fall camp earlier today and GopherDigest's Ryan Burns was there. All the info on the new Minnesota freshman and what position battles to keep an eye on can be found below.

Another day, another Gopher Football fall practice in only helmets. Should be in some pads tomorrow, so things will start to sort themselves out. Anyways, here are my notes from today.

Quarterbacks:

A much better second day from Mitch Leidner. No interceptions and had more confidence today. I thought he was doing a good job on his weight transfer and stepped into his throws consistently. Again, saw him throw balls away if nothing was there, which is encouraging to me as that was an area to improve on. Decision making was good in pass shell and put the ball where it needed to be. Ball isn't perfect as it has a wobble to it, but Leidner made good decisions today. Conor Rhoda, Jacques Perra and Demry Croft all seemed to be getting even splits with the threes and Croft had the throw of the day. During pass shell, Croft connected with a streaking Rashad Still for a big gain with a safety right on Still. Perfect spiral with some loft to put it right into the bread basket for Still on the move.

Running backs:

James johannesson looked to be getting a lot reps with the rookie squad in the team drills over Brooks and Femi-Cole. I heard Kill multiple times give some strong encouragement to Johannesson as he was having some trouble staying on his feet when he'd hit the hole. There only in helmets, so obviously no tackling, but it is worth noting he was getting a lot of reps with the rookie squad. I was impressed by the burst from both Rodrick Williams and Rodney Smith today. With an extremely limited sample size of two days in only helmets, Williams has been the one with some long runs. Probably because he's got the first team offensive line, but worth noting. Tough to get a good evaluation on this group in helmets, so excited to see them in pads.

Tight ends:

A guy who I think I'll need to start talking about more is tight end Nate Wozniak. Big Woz has really put on some weight to his 6'10" frame and moves well at 270 lbs. He's always going to look slender because of his size, but he's been getting a lot of reps so far with the first and second team. Brandon Lingen made a great diving catch in the flats and his body type is very similar to former Gopher tight end Maxx Williams. Lingen isn't as explosive yet, but I think he'll be reliable this fall. There's a lot of rotation between the first and second groups between a handful of tight ends, so tough to get a read on things early on.

Wide Receiver:

It's fun to look at the K.J. Maye this year compared to just a year ago as he's so much more confident and really leads this young wide receiver group. He's always the first in the line, encouraging his teammates and love to chat it up with any defensive back on him. Again, with a very limited sample size, but I still like Maye to contend for the most receptions and targets for Minnesota this fall. I'll also remind fans once again that if Desmond Gant starts putting it together, he's going to be special. I could be a strong argument for Gant being the most athletic guy on the roster, and I've also heard he's one of the hardest workers as well. It's just about learning the wide receiver position. Each one of the freshmen are getting a lot of coaching from Coach Anderson because of their youth since seven of the nine receivers on scholarship are underclassmen. The starting wide receiver group is Maye, Wolitarsky and Carter right now.

Offensive line:

Again, not too much to say about these guys until pads get on, but Oseland did into a little skirmish during a play which ended with his helmet off. Here have been the groups through two days from left to right.
Lauer/Christenson/Bobek/Campion/Pirsig
A.Mayes/Bjorklund/C.Mayes/Moore/Bush
Oseland/Hayes/Leidner/Dovich/Connelly

Defensive line:

The rotations have started even here early on as the "second" team DT's worked with the "first" defensive ends for a period of time in team drills. It was also good to see the defensive line bat some balls down today. Gaelin Elmore and Hank Ekpe were among them. Something they've been working on in individual drills, so good to see it translate over. Hank Ekpe nearly decapitated a running back on the read option aswell. Some groups I've noticed.
Ekpe/Richardson/Ekpe/Cockran
Keith/Stelter/Ndondo-Lay/Elmore

Linebackers:

Really like the instincts from the linebackers so far. It's seems very natural for guys like Jonathan Celestin and Julian Huff out there. They're confident from reading their keys and fly around out there. Celestin had a nice strip of Wozniak as he was trying to secure the catch and Huff always seems to be making plays in space out in the flats. While I'd expect either Everett Williams or Cody Poock to secure the MLB position, I've heard that if it doesn't happen, the Gophers may slide over Jack Lynn to Mike and Celestin would replace him at OLB. Just something to note. A lot of depth and flexibility in the two deeps so far. Groups have been:
Campbell/Williams/Lynn Celestin/Poock/Huff

Defensive backs:

I'll say it again, but this starting group of defensive backs is so confident right now. They all are playing free and loose and it shows as they're making plays. Boddy missed a near INT diving to the ground after jumping a hitch. He's very explosive out of his backpedal. Murray broke up a pass intended for Melvin Holland in mid air as Holland was trying to secure the catch and Murray flew in over the top to make an acrobatic play. I'd also be expecting a lot from walk-on safety Kunle Ayinde this fall as he was the first defensive back on when the team went nickle. I've heard from numerous people that he may be the most improved player since last fall. Jacob Huff made a nice play breaking up a pass up the seam. Hoping that there's some one on one starting tomorrow when pads get on.

Other notes:
  • Guys catching kickoffs were Myrick/Johnson - Boddy/R.Smith, plus guys like Berkley Edwards, James Johannesson and KiAnte Hardin.

  • Kill was preaching throughout practice again today about tempo and always to be moving and be productive while doing it.

  • Last note:
    I feel that this Gopher team is going to be very similar to last year where it'll be that the defense will be very good and the offense will be the question mark. Still believe this will be an improved Gopher team though.

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