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.