Gopher Football practice notes: 8/11

The Gopher Football team held their full padded practice of fall camp earlier today and GopherDigest's Ryan Burns was there. All the info on what Gophers are starting to make an impact can be found inside.

  • Minnesota is really starting to see the injury bug hit the defensive line as five (!!) defensive lineman were out by the end of practice today. Guys who were in orange jerseys not participating were Mose Hall, Gary Moore, Robert Ndondo-Lay, Alex Keith, Lincoln Plsek, Isaiah Gentry and Nick Hart. Plus Julien Kafo was out of pads by the end of practice as well, so the defensive line was short on bodies today.
  • The Star Tribune's Joe Christenson had the scoop after practice that left tackle Ben Lauer won't need knee surgery and is expected to return to practice in one or two weeks. Very good sign there as Minnesota needs him.

  • Quarterbacks:

    After seeing Mitch Leidner for five straight days now and having a little time to reflect on things, I think he'll be very similar to what he was last year. He'll look good on some throws and not so good on others. It's all about consistency and the question to me now is whether he can put together a string of games during the season where he's consistent in his throws and doesn't have bad turnover games like TCU. He's still not going to take over a game with his arm, but his deep ball is still better than the short to intermediate game. With cutting down on those interceptions and lost fumbles from strip sacks, that's not something we'll know about until the lights come on Thursday night on ESPN against TCU as there's no hitting the QB in practice. Offensive line still needs to work on giving him more time, and the wide receivers need to get open, so from five consecutive days of practice here on the Gophers campus, I think Leidner's game will be similar to last year. Question now is about how consistent can he be on cutting down those turnovers.

    Streveler is also a guy that I think will be similar to last year. His passing ability is better than last year I think, but if he's in, he'll be running the rock 20 times a game again. Still has a tight end's frame with a running backs speed and the physicality of a linebacker, so you know what your going to get there. Conor Rhoda is still above both Jacques Perra and Demry Croft, so any fans out there thinking Perra is the answer, he has to beat out three other quarterbacks still. Through five practices though, I do like the potential of true freshman Demry Croft. He's still on the true freshman lineup before anyone thinks he's going to be the savior this season, but he's extremely calm and composed for a guy not done with his first week of fall camp. Nothing gets him too high or too low and he throws a tight spiral every time. Still inconsistent as he'll thread the needle to a receiver across the middle one play and then flat out miss to a tight in the flat, but the qualities you want in a quarterback are there. Excited to see him redshirt and potentially compete in 2016.

    Running backs:

    Looks pretty clear right now that Rodrick Williams and Rodney Smith are the two guys, but sophomore Berkley Edwards got a lot of reps today as well. Rodrick does have the edge in experience, but Rodney is more shifty and I think more patient. Williams will very likely start the year as the starter, but as I've been preaching to the GopherDigest faithful for months now, don't be surprised if Rodney eventually takes over the majority of the timeshare. Had a nice run up the middle today where he got skinny through the linebackers and turned on the jets. Berkley Edwards will have a role in this offense still, just not sure where he fits yet as I think to start the season it'll be Rodrick on 1st and 2nd down, with Rodney as the third down back. Edwards' hands haven't improved enough to where I'd feel comfortable with him catching bubble screens, so maybe he spells Smith at times, I'm not sure. If any of the true freshmen running backs will play it'll either be James johannesson or Shannon Brooks. Maybe Shannon more than James right now, but both are tough runners with good hands and speed. I think a redshirt year is very likely for Canadian running back Jonathan Femi-Cole as adjusting to the American game has a healthy transition for the young man. Like his future still as he's got soft hands and the physical ability, but no need to throw him into the fire this fall.

    Tight ends:

    Brandon Lingen is starting to separate himself a little bit from the reset of the tight ends here so far in camp. He's been getting consistent reps with the starters the last few days and is the most complete tight end so far in camp. He can do a little bit of everything from block, to catch the football and make plays in space. Tight end Nate Wozniak has seen a lot of reps with the second team and figures to be the rotation this fall. At fullback, Miles Thomas is the clear cut starter with Tyler Hartmann and Colton Beebe behind him. It's been interesting the last few days at H-back as Jerry Gibson has started to cut into the reps of Duke Anyanwu. I think that's a combination of Jerry's physicality and athleticism starting to show and Anyanwu still working his way back from injury.

    Wide Receiver:

    After a week's worth of practices, I believe that K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky will be two of the starting receivers for Minnesota. They've been getting a ton of reps with Leidner and while Maye has made some plays in practice, I've seen a whole lot from Wolitarsky yet. Not a lot of passes have been thrown his way in team. Behind those two, it's still wide open. Guys like Eric Carter, Jeff Jones, Melvin Holland and the surprising walk-on Brian Smith have seen reps in different packages. I'd lean toward Eric Carter getting reps as the third wide receiver to start, but I expect a lot of rotation from this group. Jones is probably the fourth guy here, but both Holland and Smith have seen reps as well. The deep play threat so far in camp has been Desmond Gant. If he's not the freakiest athlete Minnesota has on the roster, he's in the top three as he's consistently got open deep the last couple of days. Just needs to sure up his hands to take things to the next level. Tough to gauge what kind of role Isaiah Gentry will have as he's been hurt, but I like the potential of the true freshmen wide receivers in Hunter Register and Rashad Still. Register has consistently made contested catching in traffic with the defensive back and has a knack of creating space from the DB when the ball nears and secures the catch. Very good habit to have early on. Still is a quick learner and loves to compete.

    Offensive line:

    Same offensive lines from yesterday as Foster Bush remained at left tackle. Had a better yesterday, but only because yesterday was a day to forget during team for him. Lauer was working out on the workout bike and didn't have his knee wrapped, so that was a good sign. As I noted above, he's expected to be back in 10-14 days. Still think the interior of the offensive line is strength for this offense. Jon Christenson, Brian Bobek and Josh Campion have a good thing going so far in camp. They've struggled with Steven Richardson a couple times a practice, but for the most part have done well. Tackle remains somewhat of a concern for me as Hank Ekpe and Gaelin Elmore gave Jonah Pirsig, Foster Bush, Quinn Oseland and Alex Mayes fits today. Need to sure up protection on the speed rushers.

    Defensive line:

    I honestly felt bad for this group today as with five injuries bodies out there, everyone was exhausted by the end of practice. Theiren Cockran got somewhat of a rest today as he didn't play as many snaps as he had previous days of camp as I think the staff knows what he can do and wants to make sure he's healthy. Hank Ekpe continues to impress with his explosive first step around the edge. Gaelin Elmore had a couple of sacks today as he does a huge job of fighting with his hands to create separation. Not much more to say about Steven Richardson other than he's going to be penetrating the backfield on a consistent basis again this fall.

    Linebackers:

    De'Vondre Campbell and Jack Lynn didn't get a ton of reps today as I believe the staff wanted to rest them a bit as they know what they can do. That means guys like Cody Poock, Everett Williams, Jonathan Celestin, Jaylen Waters and Julian Huff got a lot of run today. Two guys that really stood out were Huff and Celestin. Huff has great instincts and is explosive closing in on the ball. Huff was used some at defensive end today, only because the defensive line didn't have enough fresh bodies, but he was unblockable around the edge. Excited to have Huff in the fold for four years. Celestin (aka Thumper) had the hit of the practice as he smoked Berkley Edwards immediately after the handoff on a blitz. A day after I proclaimed that Cody Poock should be the starter at MLB (which I'll stick to), Everett Williams had a good day and he's still the starter there. Closed on the ball carriers in space with and delivered a couple good smacks in the hole. Still a tight race between Poock and Williams. After five practices, I feel very comfortable with the two deeps at this position.

    Defensive backs:

    Damarius Travis was back today without any restrictions, but he along with the rest of the starting secondary received rest during the team portions of practice. Again I believe it's just the Gopher coaches knowing that they can do and wanting them healthy for the opener. Guys like KiAnte Hardin, Antonio Shenault and the rest of the freshman got a lot of reps today as I've been saying all summer, KiAnte looks like he'll be playing as a true freshman. It's worth noting that Boddy-Calhoun has been a big-time coach for these corners, especically KiAnte. He's been in their ear on the sidelines during the play to yell out instructions. Boddy was doing so well I heard Sawvel yell over to him to do the same with Alonzo Craighton. I've also seen Damarius Travis give a lot of input to the younger guys on technique as well, it's good to see these seniors giving back to the freshman. Ray Buford had his best day so far in one on ones as well.

    Special Teams:

    Finally got a chance to see some punting today, and yes, it was very exciting. Both Santoso and Mortell were booming it. Mortell being the more consistent of the two I thought with distance and direction, but Santoso has a whole nother gear in his leg in terms of strength that his hang time on certain punts was ridiculous. Not sure if it means anything, but KiAnte Hardin and K.J. Maye were the only two catching the punts during that time, while Craig James got work with the punt unit.

    The long snapper battle is still very much up in the air. Battle includes Payton Jordahl, Trey Hansen and Chase Samuels, and none have really separated themselves. There have been some bad snaps in the last few days which have drawn some loud encouragement from Special Teams coach Jay Nunez. My uneducated special teams eye looked that Jordahl is in front, but definitely hasn't been decided yet.

    For those wondering about certain special team units such as who is on kickoff or kickoff return, hasn't been any of that thus far. With five days under my belt, here's my best crack at the two deeps so far in camp.

    GopherDigest's projected depth chart:

    QB: Leidner/Streveler
    RB: Williams/Smith
    FB: Thomas/Hartmann
    H-back: Gibson/Anyanwu
    TE: Lingen/Wozniak
    WR1: Maye/Carter/Holland
    WR2: Wolitarsky/J.Jones/Gant
    LT: Lauer/Bush
    LG: Christenson/Bjorklund
    C: Bobek/Christenson
    RG: Campion/Mayes
    RT: Pirsig/Bush or Mayes

    DE: H.Ekpe/Elmore
    DT: Richardson/Ndondo-Lay
    DT: S.Ekpe/Stelter
    DE: Cockran/Keith
    OLB: Campbell/Celestin
    MLB: Poock/Williams
    OLB: Lynn/Ju.Huff
    CB: Boddy-Calhoun/James
    S: Travis/Ayinde
    S: Johnson/Rogers
    CB: Murray/Myrick

    Two things you'll notice that may be a bit different are Jerry Gibson over Anyanwu and Cody Poock over Everett Williams. Neither have really happened yet, but I think Gibson may be more explosive and as physical as Duke, plus Cody has been very good. So good I don't see how you keep him off the field for too long.

    Again though, all my opinion solely and my thoughts don't represent AT ALL the thoughts of the Gopher coaching staff.

    Will also note quickly that I've noticed scouts (or people wearing a lot of NFL clothing from top to bottom with notebooks) from the Panthers, Ravens, Seahawks and Lions at practice so far.

    Please leave your thoughts or comments in the forum below.

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