Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Analyzing Depth at the Linebacker Position

Mike Rallis: is a redshirt senior and the leader on this Gophers defense. Mike started all 12 games in 2011 as an outside linebacker and recorded 83 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also started 6 games at linebacker as a sophomore, so Mike enters 2012 as an extremely experienced linebacker. Mike hit the weight room hard this offseason and added 15 lbs to his frame to get up to 245 lbs without sacrificing any speed. There has been speculation that Mike would slide inside to replace Gary Tinsley and early indications from spring practice are proving that to be true. Sliding Mike inside to middle linebacker continues the Gophers theme of injecting speed into the defense. I look for Mike to play at an extremely high level and provide strong leadership on what will prove to be an extremely young defense.

Keanon Cooper: is a redshirt senior that hails from Dallas, Texas where he played at the football powerhouse Skyline. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. ESPN had him rated the #128 overall player and #12 outside linebacker in the country. Keanon weighs in at 6'0" and 220 lbs. He has seen significant playing time over his career with 10 starts as a sophomore in 2010 and started all 12 games as a junior in 2011. Keanon had 77 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1 sack during the 2011 season. Keanon is without question one of the best athletes on the Gophers defense and I look for him to be a dynamic contributor in his senior season.

James Manuel: is a junior that hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. He weighs in at 6'2" 215 lbs and just this spring is making the transition from safety to linebacker. James will inject additional speed into the Gophers linebacker position and after his struggles at safety I look for this position switch to be a positive. I look for James to make an impact as an outside linebacker for the Gophers moving forward.

Lamonte Edwards: is a redshirt sophomore from Woodbury, Minnesota. He weighs in at 6'2" 210 lbs. In 2011, Lamonte underwent a transition from running back to linebacker. He was able to start the game against Purdue at linebacker during 2011. In 2011, Lamonte recorded 17 tackles during the season. Lamonte has a ton of athletic ability and should be an asset to the linebacker position. He will benefit from having an entire spring and fall practice schedule to acclimate to the linebacker position. He held up well last year considering the transition was made on the fly during the season after the game against Miami (Ohio). I anticipate Lamonte pushing for time as a starter as early as this year and he should be a solid linebacker in the years ahead.

Dwayne Mitchell: is a redshirt sophomore from New Orleans. He played for high school powerhouse Edna Karr and helped lead them to a 11-2 record as a senior and earned all state honors. In fact, Dwayne holds the school's record for season and career sacks. Dwayne is 6'2" and 210 lbs. ESPN ranked him the #71 outside linebacker. Dwayne has yet to really see any live action, but he has a high motor and demonstrated an ability to explode out his stance and cause disruption in the backfield. The issue that remains to be seen is if Dwayne has the size to hold up against the run. Jerry Kill has been preaching speed over and over again and Dwayne has it, so I look for him to also be an active part of the rotation this season. In particular, I could see Dwayne getting after the quarterback in obvious passing situations.

Jephete Matilus: is a redshirt freshman from Delray Beach, Florida. ESPN ranked him the #75 outside linebacker. Jephete weighs in at 6'1" 230 lbs and as a result has some added size to hold up against the run. Jephete has excellent speed and athleticism for the outside linebacker position and displays sound tackling technique. His high school tape demonstrated an ability to beat blockers with his good hands and quickness. While he didn't play during the 2011 season, accounts I have heard are that he was one of the more impressive practice squad players. I look for Jephete to ultimately anchor one of the Gophers linebacker spots in the upcoming years.

Peter Westerhaus: is a redshirt freshman from Chanhassen, MN. He was named Minnesota's Mr. Football for 2010 and actually was second team All American as a tight end by Rivals. ESPN ranked him the #100 outside linebacker. He has prototypical linebacker size at 6'3" and 230 lbs. Based on the other lighter athletic players already mentioned, I think it is likely that Peter's future is manning the middle linebacker spot for the Gophers. He has proven to be a high motor guy with good instincts and sheds blockers at the point of attack.

Nick Rallis: welcome the next of a line of Rallis brothers to suit up in the maroon and gold. Nick is the younger brother of senior Mike Rallis. Nick was a member of the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall as a true freshman. He played his high school football at Edina. Nick was ranked the #8 player in the state of Minnesota and the #65 outside linebacker in the country by Scout. Nick is a great athlete that played both ways in high school, but should settle in at linebacker for the Gophers. He has great speed and size at 5'1" 220 lbs. The scouting reports state that he has good speed, solid tackler and simply allows finds himself around the ball. I think he will be an outstanding player in upcoming years, but will almost certainly redshirt this season.

Conclusion: When you initially look at the position depth it is alarming to see Mike Rallis, Keanon Cooper and Spencer Reeves all as graduating seniors this year. There is no question they have all been solid multi year starters on the Gophers defense. However, as you examine the younger guys left on the roster I believe there is a lot to be excited about. There is no question that in the years ahead the Gophers will be putting more speed on the field at the linebacker position than we have typically been used to. Players like James, Lamonte, Dwayne and Jephete all are extremely athletic guys, but with the exception of Jephete also undersized. The key to the success of the Gophers linebackers moving forward is whether the advantages of increased speed will outweigh the disadvantage of being undersized. Outside of conference play, I think it will prove to be beneficial but I have some concern that teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan may take advantage of that weakness. This weakness gets nullified if we can get good push from our defensive line, which will help keep blockers off our linebacks and allow them to flow to the ball. The good news is that with the exception of James Manuel all these guys are still underclassmen and have another year to develop behind the seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Overall, I would say that linebacker remains the strength of the Gophers defense and not a crucial immediate recruiting target.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gopher Hockey Team on to the Frozen Four!

The Gophers hockey team continues to follow the path laid out for them by the Gophers women's hockey team that took home the National Championship hardware earlier this month. The Gophers crushed border rival North Dakota 5-2 to win the West Regional at Xcel Energy Center. Outstanding goalie, Kent Patterson, was named the region's Most Outstanding Player. Now the Gophers move on to the Frozen Four and a date with Boston College on April 5th at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. This will be a stiff challenge for the Gophers, as Boston College is the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament. However, the Gophers are playing excellent and have to be a huge threat to take home the hardware.

This is the Gophers 4th trip to the Frozen Four during Don Lucia's 13 seasons as coach. The Gophers last National Championships were the back to back titles in 2002 & 2003.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Key Position Changes Announced by Jerry Kill

It is that time of year again... spring practice a time of renewed hope, optimism and excitement. Another key ingredient of spring practice is the ever changing two deep depth chart and players changing positions. During Wednesday's press conference Jerry Kill was very open about some significant position changes that are taking place this spring. 

Moses Alipate is finally officially confirmed to be making the switch to tight end. You will recall I addressed this in the tight end analysis I performed last month. I am glad this position change is confirmed because Moses was clearly buried on the quarterback depth chart, but his athletic abilities will be invaluable at one of the team's weakest positions. Moses has bulked up to 290 lbs, but he also greatly improved his conditioning. Plus, Moses already showed off some solid hands during Thursday's initial practice. This could prove to be the most important position switch of the year, if Moses can deliver as an effective weapon in the passing game.

Kendall Gregory McGhee is also making the switch to tight end. As a high school player he was a tight end/ wide receiver, but came to the Gophers as a defensive end prospect. However, he continually struggled to embrace his role as a defensive lineman. My earlier post analyzing the defensive end position already mentioned that Kendall had been bypassed by younger defensive ends, so I think this is another positive position change. Kendall certainly possesses athletic ability and is a fairly big target at at 6'5" 260 lbs. Again, tight end is a position of weakness currently on the Gophers, so moving two good athletes in Moses and Kendall gives the Gophers a much better chance to generate some production from the position. Hopefully, they can step in and contribute, which would take the pressure off of Maxx Williams to have to deliver immediately as a true freshman.

James Manuel will be moving from safety to weakside linebacker. This is an intriguing move that I am cautiously optimistic will be a great fit. James continually struggled in coverage at safety, but his speed will be an immediate asset at the linebacker position. James has always shown a willingness to embrace contact, so putting him closer to the box where he can let his speed and natural ability take over could be a huge success. There is no doubt Jerry Kill wants to inject speed into every level of the defense and this is another move in that direction. It is honestly similar to the blueprint LSU has implemented where they essentially are regularly converting safeties into linebackers to put more speed on the field. James will be a player to watch closely as spring practice unfolds to see how quickly he makes the conversion.

Brock Vereen will be moving from cornerback to safety.  This came as a big surprise to me since Brock started all 12 games at cornerback during 2011 and played well. This proves to be a big sign that Jerry Kill is confident that the JUCOs he brought in Jeremy Baltazar, Martez Shabazz and Briean Boddy are going to be able to step in and play cornerback opposite Troy Stoudermire. This should certainly help bring some stability to the saftey position that is having to replace Kim Royston. Brock is one of the better cover guys on the Gophers and has shown a knack for making some big plays, so he could flourish.

Derrick Wells will also be moving from cornerback to safety. Derrick saw action in 11 games last year as a freshman, so he will also bring some experience to the depleted safety position. According to Jerry Kill, Derrick has bulked up from 175 lbs to 205 lbs. His added size should help bring some physical toughness to the back end of the Gophers defense.

I don't think it is surprising that 4 of the major moves involved getting players transitioned to the tight end and safety positions. Those were clearly two of the glaring weaknesses on the Gophers 2012 roster and hopefully these changes can help bring stability to those units. I am most excited about seeing Moses develop as a tight end, James Manuel become an outside linebacker and Brock Vereen become a playmaker at the safety position.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Freshman Scott Ekpe already impressing Jerry Kill

There is some exciting news already developing this spring as true freshman defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is already impressing the coaching staff. A direct quote from Jerry Kill after the first spring practice was "he did a really nice job for a freshman and he didn't seem like the transition was a big deal to him". Also, when Jerry addressed the media on Wednesday he made a point to mention that Scott Ekpe "when he arrived on campus was 248lbs and right now, he's about 276lbs. I mean, he is eating and growing right in front of our eyes. I think we'll be excited about watching him play as a young person."

It certainly appears that Scott Ekpe has benefited greatly from enrolling early and should continue to benefit by being able to participate in spring practice. It is rare for an unheralded freshman to get this much publicity so early in his career, so there is a distinct possibility of a solid defensive tackle in the Gophers future! This would be great for Gopher depth at the position because behind juniors RaShede Hageman and incoming JUCO Roland Johnson there are really no proven players. Minnesota will always struggle to compete for many of the elite level prospects, so unearthing and developing diamonds in the rough will be critical to the success of the program.

A final point to make about the value of Scott Ekpe is that his brother, Hendrick Ekpe, is a 2013 high school recruit that has been generating some buzz. He already has scholarship offers from Minnesota and Iowa, as a defensive end, so hopefully the family ties will be a valuable selling point.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gophers Women's Hockey National Champions!

Congratulations are in order for the Gophers Women's hockey team bringing home the NCAA championship in hockey by defeating defending champion, and hated rival Wisconsin, 4-2 in Sunday's championship game played in Duluth, MN. The Badgers entered the game as the #1 team in women's hockey, but left without the championship hardware. In fact, Wisconsin finished the season 33-5-2 but the Gophers were actually 3-1-1 against the Badgers this season. It is always great to get the best of old Bucky the Badger, but even sweeter when it results in a national title!  Congratulations again!

Here is hoping the men's team can keep the momentum going as they commence their title run this Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center against Boston University. If the Gophers can get past Boston, they are most likely staring at a rematch with their bitter rival North Dakota in the West Regional finals. It is great to see hockey back on top in the State of Hockey!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Analyzing Depth of the Defensive Tackle Position

We continue our inspection of the Gopher defense by taking a close look at the defensive tackle position. I think it is important to start by looking at what sort of productivity we were getting out of the defensive tackle position in 2011. The defensive tackle position sets the tone for stopping the run and sadly the Gophers didn't do a great job of stopping the run in 2011. The Gophers allowed opponents to rush for 2,237 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. I think those numbers speak for themselves... not good. The bottom line is that our safety Kim Royston led the Gophers in tackles in 2011 and when the 3rd level of the defense is accumulating the most tackles it is safe to say the defense failed. This is particularly concerning when you consider that arguably the strength of the Gophers defense in 2011 was up the middle with senior defensive tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey. Also, our middle linebacker was the solid senior Gary Tinsley. Anthony Jacobs accounted for 26 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Brandon Kirksey had 19 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and no sacks. Both our tackles played in all 12 games of the 2011 season and were relatively healthy. I personally always greatly enjoyed watching Brandon Kirksey play, as I felt he was a strong leader and represented the university in a positive way. However, neither Kirksey or Jacobs provided above average ability on the football field. We have already evaluated the great unknown that is the defensive end position and now the Gophers must replace 2 senior defensive tackles.  Who exactly will those replacements be?

RaShede Hageman: should immediately step in as a starting defensive tackle. He factored heavily in the rotation in 2011, as he played in all 12 games and accumulated 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. The only defensive lineman with more sacks was DL Wilhite. RaShede enters 2012 as a redshirt junior. He weighs in at 6'6" 302 lbs and has demonstrated the combination of size and speed to be a wrecking ball in the middle of a defense. RaShede is a Minnesota native that played high school football for Minneapolis Washburn. In high school he was actually a tight end and widely regarded as one of the best tight ends in the 2009 class. In fact, recruiter Tom Lemming ranked him the #1 tight end in the country and #97 player overall. However, Brewster transitioned him to the defensive line, which has proven to be a slow process. However, as the 2011 season progressed it seemed the RaShede was growing comfortable and confident in his ability to play defensive tackle. I am extremly excited to see what he can produce now that he is slotted in as a starting defensive tackle. He simply provides a much stronger range of athletic skills than either Kirksey or Jacobs did, and as a result I believe he can be a disruptive force in the middle of the Gophers defense.

Roland Johnson: arrives on campus in 2012 as a JUCO from Butler County Community College. He will be a junior for the Gophers in 2012. Roland comes from Duncan, South Carolina where he played high school football for South Carolina powerhouse Byrnes High School. His senior season he had 160 tackles and 16 sacks. He is 6'1" 295 lbs. Roland lacks ideal size to anchor the middle but he makes up for with a quick first step, great motor and a willingness to be physical. This kid has put up solid numbers throughout his career, but has often been overlooked due to his lack of size. I think he will most likely be the other defensive tackle lining up next to RaShede on most downs. I also think he will prove to be a more disruptive player than either Kirksey or Jacobs were last year.

Eric Jacques: is also a redshirt junior that hails from Pompano Beach, Florida. He weighs in at 6'2" 286 lbs. Eric appeared in 7 games last year and assisted on 4 tackles. Eric was not highly regarded coming out of high school and initially projected as an offensive guard, but depth issues resulted in him converting to defensive tackle. Eric's playing time has been limited, but what little I have seen doesn't lead me to believe he will help upgrade the Gophers interior defense. He will most likely come off the bench to help keep RaShede and Roland fresh.

Harold Legania: is a redshirt sophomore that hails from New Orleans, Louisiana. He is a solid 6'4" 292 lbs. As a redshirt freshman last year, Harold did not see any game action. Without any true game tape to go off of, it is challenging to project what Harold will do in 2012. I will say that his measurables stack up better than Eric Jacques, so I could see him pushing to be the first defensive tackle off the bench.

Yoshoub Timms: was a late addition to the Gophers 2012 recruiting class. He hails from Fort Walton Beach, Florida. ESPN ranked Yoshoub as the #83 defensive tackle in the country. He weighs in at 6'2" 265 lbs and has the frame to bulk up in the years ahead. He has demonstrated that he can be extremely stout against the run, but must work to get off the ball quicker and maintain separation from blockers. Yoshoub will most likely redshirt in 2012, but I look for him to be a valuable contributor in the upcoming years.

Conclusion: Defensive tackle productivity begins and ends with RaShede Hageman. If RaShede can finally tap into his enormous athletic abilities, he will help elevate the entire defensive line for the next two years. The Gophers will miss the experience and leadership of Jacobs and Kirksey, but I think RaShede and incoming JUCO Roland will provide more productivity from the position. I also think Harold Legania may take a step forward and show he can be a valuable contributor to the defensive line rotation. Yoshoub and another incoming freshman Jordan Hinojosa will almost certainly redshirt and have a few seasons to bulk up. Aside from RaShede, this remains a position that lacks upper echelon athletic ability. I think we will see improvement over the past few years, but the Gophers need to continue to recruit better defensive tackles that can hold up to the rigors of Big 10 play.

Friday, March 16, 2012

James Onwualu Verbally Pledges to Notre Dame

A sad day for Gopher football recruiting as class of 2013 wide receiver James Onwualu has already ended the recruiting process by committing to Notre Dame. James Onwualu is already widely regarded as the top Minnesota high school prospect in the 2013 class. James is a big strong and versatile athlete at 6'1" 200 lbs and has been clocked in the 40 yard dash around 4.5. He plays for Cretin Derham Hall, which has sadly had a strong pipeline to Notre Dame for years. You may recall, Michael Floyd also played his high school ball for Cretin Derham Hall and made the choice to play for Notre Dame. Michael went on to have an extremely productive college career and now it appears Michael Floyd will be a first round NFL draft pick in April.

Jerry Kill has been working hard to try and close up the Minnesota border, but it looks like this is one premier recruit that will escape the state. James already has offers from Arizona, Stanford, Northwestern, Michigan St., Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Kansas, Vanderbilt and of course Notre Dame. Granted, it is only March 16th and James can't sign a letter of intent for virtually an entire year, but it doesn't seem like he has the Gophers very high on his list. The good news is that thanks to a stellar 2012 recrutiing class at the wide receiver position the loss of Onwualu is not significant from the perspective of our depth at the position. Instead, the key blow is simply that another top flight Minnesotan has chosen to leave the state to play football.

Here is the recent history of the elite Minnesota high school recruits that have left Minnesota to play college football.

In 2008, Minnesota's #1 recruit and widely regarded as a blue chip 5 star recruit was Michael Floyd who chose Notre Dame. Also, #2 Minnesota recruit Willie Mobley chose Ohio St. In 2009, Minnesota's #1 recruit Bryce McNeal chose Clemson. In 2010, Seantrel Henderson was Minnesota's #1 recruit, and according to many the #1 recruit in the entire country, chose Miami. Other key Minnesotans in 2010 were AJ Tarpley who chose Stanford and Beau Allen who chose Wisconsin.

With the arrival of Jerry Kill, it seems that more elite in state talent is choosing to wear the Maroon and Gold. Tommy Olson was the #1 recruit in 2011 and chose the Gophers. In 2012, all the key in state guys stayed home. The only exception is that technically the #1 recruit was offensive lineman Nick Davidson, but he was a transfer from North Carolina who was only in the state of Minnesota for his senior year. As a result, it is not surprising he had no attachment to the Gophers. In 2013, Kill already has a committment from Keelon Brookins who will be one of the top prospects in the state. Only time will tell how the rest of 2013 shapes up. Who knows we may still see Onwualu in a Gophers uniform.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Defensive End Position

We have completed our analysis of depth on the offensive side of the ball and now move over to the defense. We concluded our analysis of the offense feeling good about the future direction of the offense as a unit. As a result, the success of the Gophers in future years will hinge on the growth and development of our defense. We will begin by examining one of the Gophers key defensive deficiencies, the defensive end position. It has become abundantly clear over the course of the past decade that putting pressure on the quarterback is paramount to success at both the collegiate and pro level. I want to highlight the importance of the defensive end position by highlighting the importance of getting pressure on the quarterback. The quickest measurement for teams that successfully pressure the quarterback is the number of sacks, so here is a breakdown of teams with the most sacks and their corresponding W-L record during the 2011 season.

Texas A&M 51 sacks - 7-6
Cincinnati 46 sacks - 10-3
Michigan St. 45 sacks - 11-3
Oregon 44 sacks - 12-2 played in BCS Rose Bowl
Pittsburgh 42 sacks - 6-7
Virginia Tech 41 sacks - 11-3 played in BCS Sugar Bowl
Florida St. 40 sacks - 9-4
Stanford 39 sacks - 11-2  played in BCS Fiesta Bowl
LSU 39 sacks - 13-1 played in BCS National Championship
Georgia 35 sacks - 10-4

Of all 10 of the BCS Bowl teams, only Wisconsin and Clemson ranked outside the Top 30 of teams in number of sacks, and they were 54th and 61st respectively. To further enhance this point, Wisconsin and Clemson both lost their bowl games and gave up 45 and 70 points respectively in their bowl games, which highlights that the weakest pass rushing teams suffered the most. I do not think it is a coincidence that the teams on the list above had outstanding seasons, with the exceptions of Texas A&M and Pittsburgh. During 2011, all the Gophers defensive ends combined tallied a mighty cumulative 5.5 sacks. Based on my research, there were 24 individual defensive ends that tallied 8 or more sacks by themselves! If you include defensive tackles and linebackers there were 42 players that had 8 or more sacks by themselves. If the Gophers want to take the next step as a program they need to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback. The question is whether we have players on the roster that can do that. Let us take a look!

Michael Amaefula: was a 2011 recruit from Arlington, Texas. He weighs in at 6'2" 235 lbs. Michael actually saw significant playing time as a true freshman. Michael appeared in all 12 games and actually started 4 games. He generated 17 tackles with 1.5 sacks and recovered 2 fumbles. The Gophers voted him the team's outstanding defensive freshman of the year. Michael has demonstrated good speed off the edge and the ability to shed blockers effectively. As the season progressed, it became clear that we are most likely looking at the brightest future among the current Gopher defensive ends on the roster. Michael has demonstrated that he can put pressure on the quarterback. It was an impressive season by a true freshmen playing such a physical position as defensive end. He will certainly benefit from an offseason in the weight room and I am excited to see what Michael can deliver in 2012. I look for him to be a starting defensive end in 2012.

Ben Perry: will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012. Ben hails from Southlake, Texas where he played high school football for Texas powerhouse Southlake Carroll High School. He weighs in at 6'5" 241 lbs, so obviously it would be nice to see him add some additional bulk to his frame. Last year, Ben started all 12 games at defensive end and generated 2.5 tackles for loss with 1 sack. As a starting defensive end, you would like to see greater production from the position, but it is important to consider that Ben was a redshirt freshman. Optimistically, we hope that this valuable playing time will help springboard Ben forward to a more productive 2012 campaign. However, I have concerns that Ben can ultimately provide the necessary pressure consistently from the defensive end position.

DL Wilhite: will be a redshirt senior in 2012. DL hails from Lexington, Kentucky. DL weighs in at 6'3" 245 lbs. During 2011, DL started 8 games and was actively involved in all 12 games. DL ended up creating 3 tackles for loss with 3 sacks. I headed into 2011 optimistic that DL may take a big stride forward and was certainly disappointed in the production level. He was ultimately beat out by true freshman Michael Amaefula for the starting spot. I look for him to be an active member of the defensive end rotation in 2012, but DL has not demonstrated the ability to be a dynamic player at the position.

Matt Garin: will be a redshirt junior in 2012. Matt is a native Minnesotan that played high school football for Eastview. In fact, he holds Eastview's record for career sacks. He was a highly touted recruit in the 2009 class with ESPN ranking him #40 DE in the country. Matt is a solid 6'4" 252 lbs and he appeared in 8 games during the 2011 season and generated 5 tackles and a .5 tackle for loss. It was a disappointing season for Matt who headed into 2011 poised to take a big step forward after being heavily involved in the 2010 campaign as a redshirt freshmen. I remain hopeful that Matt can take a step forward in 2012 and help strengthen the effectiveness of our defensive line, but he is going to need to work to more effectively take on blockers.

Kendall Gregory McGhee: will be a redshirt junior in 2012 and hails from Aurora, Colorado. Kendall weighs in at 6'5" 255 lbs and appeared in 11 games during the 2011 season. Kendall generated 5 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. I don't see Kendall providing much impact to the defensive end position, but he will be in the rotation in 2012 as a backup.

Theiren Cockran: was a 2011 recruit and he redshirted, so he will be a redshirt freshman as we head into 2012. Theiren comes from Homestead, Florida. He weighs in at 6'6" and 221 lbs, so he is clearly an undersized defensive end. He has the frame capable of adding some bulk, but his contribution will be predominately as a speed rusher. He has been timed in the 4.5 range in the 40 yard dash. There will certainly be questions about his ability to hold up in the running game, but he could inject some needed speed into the pass rush on obvious passing situations. As a result, I see Theiren as being a situational player in 2012, but he does demonstrate the athletic ability necessary to generate some excitement about what he can contribute.  

Conclusion: The defensive end position has provided abysmal production over the past few years and as a result it is not surprising to see how much the Gophers have struggled in the win loss column. All you need to do is scroll back to the top of this post to gleam the importance I place on getting pressure on the quarterback. It is simply unacceptable for a Big 10 program to generate a combined 5.5 sacks from the defensive end position over the course of an entire year. In 2010, the Gophers finished dead last in the country with 9 total sacks.

Jerry Kill has repeatedly spoken of his commitment to get to the quarterback and consequently has emphasized injecting speed into the position. As a result, the youngsters Amaefula, Perry and Cockran are poised to garner most of the playing time. We saw this begin last year with Perry and Amaefula overtaking Garin, Wilhite and McGhee for the starting positions. The good news is that Amaefula and Perry are only sophomores this year, but already have full seasons of experience under their belt. In addition, Cockran is still a freshman, so we need to hope they all continue to show progression. We really did not bring in any dynamic defensive end recruits in the 2012 class, so the near future is really riding on the ability of Amaefula, Perry and Cockran to show significant progress. Garin, Wilhite and McGhee will provide some reasonable depth to the position, but they simply lack the ability to consistently get to the quarterback. Plus, they are all upperclassmen, so it seems Kill is already looking to the future. This position remains a major question mark to me and I will continue to state that the future of the Gophers becoming relevant primarily rests on the Gophers ability to generate production from our defensive ends. 2012 will be a big year to see if we do have the necessary playmakers at the defensive end spots to begin rebuilding a defense that has been in shambles these past few years.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wide Receiver Ge'Shun Harris Kicked off Football Team

Gophers wide receiver Ge'Shun Harris was kicked off the football team Thursday as a result of being charged with financial transaction card fraud. The charges stem from Ge'Shun being accused of making $800 of purchases on a stolen credit card he obtained from a bag at MSP airport. To Jerry Kill's credit, he immediately dismissed Ge'Shun from the team. The Star Tribune also points out that a review of court records indicate Harris having been charged with two misdemenor theft charges in Ramsay and Hennipen County.

A quote from Jerry Kill was "Based on our team policies and the way we run our program Ge'Shun Harris was immediately dismissed from our football program. Every member of our team is well-aware of our expectations of them and how we enforce our team policies."

What this means for the Gophers?

Honestly, this is not a huge deal from the perspective of Gophers on field performance. Ge'Shun arrived in January 2011 as a JUCO recruit from Arizona Western College. During 2011, Ge'Shun played in five games and caught one pass for 28 yards. In fact, I did not even factor him into the Gophers key players at the wide receiver position in my earlier post. Personally, I am glad to see that Jerry Kill is running a tight ship. It is disappointing that so much of coaching has turned into babysitting, but without that oversight it can leave quite a stain on a program (cough cough Buckeyes cough) excuse me and my cough. Here is hoping Gopher players can stay off the police radar for the forseeable future.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Way to early glimpse at Gophers 2014 offense

Projected 2014 Gophers Starting Offense

QB: Philip Nelson - (redshirt So.)

RB: Devon Wright (redshirt Sr.) Donnell Kirkwood (redshirt Sr.)

WR: Jamel Harbison (Jr.) Andre McDonald (Jr.) Marcus Jones (Sr.) Devin Crawford Tufts (Sr.)

TE: Maxx Williams (Jr.)

LT: Jonah Pirsig (redshirt So.)

LG: Tommy Olson - (Sr.)

C: Isaac Hayes - (Jr.)

RG: Zac Epping - (redshirt Sr.)

RT: Jimmy Gjere - (redshirt Sr.)

Once you put all our position guys down on paper it becomes clear that we could potentially be looking at one of the best offenses that the Gophers have fielded in years. The obvious key is that Philip Nelson must live up to the hype and truly prove to be a transformative quarterback that can elevate the team around him. A couple key reasons why I think he can do that are:

1) We are basically assured that Philip will be working within an offensive system that should be consistent from year to year thanks to the coaching stability Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover will provide. As a result, in his 3rd year working with the offense he should have a solid handle on the playbook and his reads.

2) Philip will have one of the most explosive set of wide receiving corps that the Gophers have ever had, at least in my lifetime. The key is that Harbison and McDonald live up to their potential, but if they do Nelson will have a host of weapons at his disposal.

3) Philip will benefit from a veteran offensive line that has the size and athleticism to run and pass block effectively. It is so cliche but games really are won in the trenches and Pirsig, Hayes, Olson and Gjere are all highly touted linemen that can really dominate the line of scrimmage.

In addition, I think Maxx Williams could also be an above average tight end, or at least on par with other Big 10 tight ends. Now, the running back spot still leaves a lot to be desired, unless Devon Wright can turn out to be the playmaker I envisioned him to be. However, we could also infuse the running back spot with a JUCO or highly touted younger running back that we recruit in 2013. The bottom line is that in 2014, I think we could be looking at a Gophers offense that could be above average at quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line, which is certainly more than the Gophers of the past five years can say.

As a result, as I look into the future of the Gophers program I think it will all hinge on the development of the defense. The Gophers have had previous success implementing a competitive offense, but matching that with a comparable defense has always proven to be an uphill battle. I feel comfortable saying that the 2014 Gophers could be fielding an offense worthy of reaching a Rose Bowl.  However, my fear is that we simply won't have a defense that can meet that required level of performance.

I would like to try and draw some parallels to the best Gophers team of recent memory and the possible 2014 Gophers team. The Glen Mason led 2003 Gophers team went 10-3 with the only losses being to Michigan by 3 points, Michigan State by 4 points and blowout loss at Iowa to end the season. I draw comparisons to the 2003 Gophers because that was a talented offensive team that lacked a defense to match up with elite teams. That 2003 Gopher team scored 503 points and scored 35 or more points in 9 of 13 games. That 2003 team featured 3 First Team All Big 10 selections in running back Marion Barber III, center Greg Eslinger and tight end Ben Utecht. Also, tackle Rian Melander and guard Joe Quinn were Second Team All Big 10.  I don't think it is to crazy to envision comparable honors occurring in 2014, except that wide receiver would be more likely than running back to receive honors. Notice that all our All Big 10 selections were on the offensive side of the ball in 2003. Unfortunately, our 3 losses were to the ranked Big 10 teams we faced and we gave up 38, 44 and 40 point respectively in those games. I point this out to highlight how critical it is we significantly upgrade our defense this time around, so that a good season like 2003 could possibly become a special season in 2014.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Analyzing depth at the Offensive Guard/ Center Position

Interior line play was a bit of a jumbled mess during 2011 as injuries and inconsistent play resulted in a variety of different starting lineups. One area of consistency was at center where Ryan Wynn started all 12 games as a senior. Wynn had 26 starts during his career, but was never a dominant player. Ryan Orton was another senior member of the offensive line that will not be available for the 2012 season. Orton provided some versatility, but again is not an irreplaceable talent. While we lose Wynn and Orton's experience, I think we will find that is easily made up for by a significant upgrade in the talent level of the players replacing them.

Tommy Olson: was the centerpiece of the 2011 recruiting class. He was a solid 4 star recruit on ESPN and ranked as the #14 guard in the country. Rivals named him to the second team All America team. Tommy is a Minnesota native that played high school ball at Mahtomedi. Tommy is a solid 6'4 289 lbs. His brother is Gopher offensive tackle Ed Olson. Tommy wasted no time getting on the field, as he played in 11 games as a true freshman. He started 3 games at right guard. Tommy is another of the outstanding young offensive linemen that chose to stay home and represent the Gophers. He has excellent size and athleticism for the guard position and shows true explosion out of his stance that enables Tommy to reach 2nd level defenders with relative ease. Many are projecting him to have locked up the left guard position next to his brother Ed for 2012 and the foreseeable future.

Zac Epping: was a part of the 2010 recruiting class and redshirted during the 2010 season. Zac is 6'2" 297 lbs and hails from Kenosha, Wisconsin. During 2011, Zac played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman and was able to actually start the final 8 games of the season. He held up well considering he was only a redshirt freshman and he will benefit from another offseason to improve his strength and conditioning. It appears Zac will have the inside track to be the starting right guard heading into 2012.

Zach Mottla: arrived on campus as a walk on in 2009. He played his high school football for local powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall and ESPN ranked him the #8 center in the country. He redshirted in 2009 and did not see any action during 2010 either. During 2011, Zach received playing time as a reserve in games against USC, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. In 2012, Zach is a redshirt junior and weights in at 6'2" 290 lbs. I think Zach has the inside track to be the starting center in 2012.

Joe Bjorklund: was a part of the 2011 recruiting class and redshirted last year, so he will be a redshirt freshman in 2012. Joe weighs in at 6'5" 281 lbs and played his high school ball for Rosemount High where he earned AP All State honors as a senior and helped lead Rosemount to a 12-1 record and advanced to Class 5A Prep Bowl. ESPN ranked him has the #60 guard in the country. He is a physical blocker that enjoys contact and gets out of his stance quickly. However, he needs to continue to work on effectively maintaining his pad level and developing additional bulk and strength. I don't anticipate Joe being a starter in 2012, but rather be in the rotation should injuries arise. With his lean frame, he should be able to continue to bulk up and become an imposing blocker in the years ahead.

Josh Campion: is a redshirt freshman that hails from Fergus Falls, MN. He was originally a recruit in the 2009 class, but spent a year at prep school, Fork Union Military Academy, before signing in the 2011 class. He is 6'5" 310 lbs. Since Josh redshirted last year there hasn't been many opportunities to evaluate him, but he clearly possesses great size to anchor an interior line position. There has been some speculation that he may takeover as center. I could see Josh making a push to be the starting center if the staff chooses to go that way, otherwise he will provide valuable depth to the interior of the offensive line.

Isaac Hayes: is another illustrative member of the Gophers heralded in state class of 2012. In fact, according to ESPN he is the Gophers highest rated recruit in the 2012 class. ESPN ranked him the #112 player in the country and #9 offensive guard in the country. He played football for St. Thomas Academy and helped lead the team to a record of 20-2. Isaac was named first team all state by AP and the Pioneer Press. The scouting reports state that he has excellent explosion coming off the ball, great agility, uses his hands effectively and does a great job locating defenders while on the move. The bottom line is if he can live up to his accolades he will be another invaluable member of the Gophers offensive line. There has already been talk that his athleticism may warrant him making the move to center. If he moves to center, I think there is a distinct possibility that he wins the job this year. However, there must also be some consideration of redshirting him and utilizing Zach Mottla in 2012. Ultimately, I look for Isaac to be the Gophers starting center of the future.

Conclusion: The momentum that we began to generate after analyzing the offensive tackle position carries over to the interior line positions. The center position is a bit up in the air, but if my hunch about Isaac Hayes is correct that position is locked up for the foreseeable future. This is another extremely young but talented group. Both starting guards look to be sophomores and key depth is provided by redshirt freshmen. The other exciting aspect is that even though the group is young many of them have already obtained valuable Big 10 experience. The group provides great size to hold up in the physical Big 10 and will benefit from the continuity of working with each other over the course of the next 3 years. It is exciting to see the Gophers building a dominant offensive line. In a few years we could be looking at an impressive offensive line of upperclassmen led Jonah Pirsig, Tommy Olson, Isaac Hayes, Zac Epping and Jimmy Gjere. All of those guys, with the exception of Epping, arrived on campus as highly touted national prospects that received scholarship offers from big time programs across the country. The future is bright and the key will be to continually replenish the talent pool in the upcoming recruiting classes.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Offensive Tackle Position

Now that we have analyzed the depth of the Gophers at all the skill positions on offense, it is time to beginning digging into depth at arguably the most important position besides quarterback. That position is offensive line, and I believe it is the crucial element to turning things around on the offensive side of the ball. Due to the number of people involved along the offensive line, I have tried to break it down into two parts tackles and guards/center to follow in a subsequent post. Going into 2012, the Gophers will be looking to replace redshirt senior Chris Bunders who started the final seven games of the season at right tackle when Jimmy Gjere went down with concussion issues. However, starting left tackle Ed Olson returns as a redshirt junior.

Ed Olson: will be a redshirt junior in 2012 and is a solid 6'7" 300 lbs. He has already started 18 games at left tackle for the Gophers, so he is an experienced junior that has proven to be a reliable blocker. I look for Ed to continue to make strides as a blocker and be a calming influence on what will prove to be a relatively young offensive line.

Jimmy Gjere: will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012 and is measures 6'7" 315 lbs. Jimmy actually earned the starting right tackle job in 2011 as a redshirt freshman, but concussion issues derailed his season. The good news is that Jimmy Gjere is recovered from the concussions and should be back as the starting right tackle in 2012. Jimmy was a heralded recruit coming out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the #19 guard in the country. He has the size, strong footwork and arm length you look for in a lineman to lock down a tackle spot. I look for Jimmy to lock down a tackle spot for the foreseeable future.

Kyle McAvoy: redshirted during the 2011 season and will be a redshirt freshman in 2012. Kyle is a solid 6'5" 296 lbs. Kyle was another highly touted prospect coming out of high school. ESPN ranked him the #28 offensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting rankings. Since he redshirted last year, there isn't much to go off of other than high school scouting reports, which state he is a tough run blocker that demonstrates initial explosion to knock defenders off the line of scrimmage. He has the natural size and athleticism to be a key contributor to the tackle position. I would look for Kyle to be one of the first reserves called upon should Ed or Jimmy get injured.

Marek Lenkiewicz: will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012 and measures 6'5" 270 lbs. Marek was able to start the final two games at left tackle during 2011 season and made appearances during the Michigan, Purdue, Nebraska and Iowa games. As a result, Marek received some solid in game experience during 2011, which will help provide depth to the tackle position. Marek has demonstrated he can sustain blocks well and battles to the whistle.

Luke McAvoy: is the twin brother to Kyle McAvoy and he also redshirted in 2011 and will be a redshirt freshman in 2012. Luke measures 6'5" 281 lbs. Luke has the large frame to contribute at the tackle position, but will benefit from continued development and strength training. However, he doesn't demonstrate the same explosion and strength that his brother does. I don't expect Luke to see the field much, if at all, in 2012 due to the tackles already mentioned above. Hopefully he continues to develop and enhance the depth of the tackle position.

Jonah Pirsig: is one of the crown jewels of the 2012 recruiting class. He is a monster that arrives on campus already measuring 6'8" 300 lbs. It will be impressive to see what his frame is capable of after a couple years in Minnesota's strength and conditioning program. He is another native Minnesotan hailing from Blue Earth, MN. ESPN ranked him the #48 offensive tackle in the 2012 recruiting rankings. The scouting reports are that he is a dominant run blocker, but Jonah also possesses the nimble feet and arm length to be an effective pass blocker at the tackle position. I look for Jonah to redshirt during 2012 thanks to the solid depth in front of him, but look for him to be a solid contributor in the years ahead.

Conclusion: To put it simply, I am giddy (yes I just used giddy) about the level of depth and talent on display at the tackle position for the Gophers. All of these guys measure in at least 6'5 and in fact 3 of them hit 6'7" and most will have playing weights near 300 lbs. These players give the Gophers legitimate size and athleticism to compete with anyone else in the Big 10 along the line of scrimmage. It wasn't that long ago that the Gophers achieved relevance in the Big 10 by producing solid offensive lines and running the ball effectively. I look for these tackles to start opening up holes in the running game and keeping MarQueis off his back. Plus, looking forward all these guys are either sophomores or freshmen, with the exception of Ed Olson who is a junior. This position is loaded with talent and is extremely young. As a result, it will continue to allow the Gophers the luxury of redshirting incoming offensive tackle recruits, which will continue to aid the depth and development of our players. I am extremely excited about the tackle position. In fact, I think it is the strongest position on the Gopher team in 2012.