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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

All eyes on the defense at 2008 spring game

Throughout spring practice, Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster talked about an improved defense from the 2007 version which finished last in the nation in total defense.

Capping off 2008 spring practice with the annual spring game on Friday, the Gophers defense looked much improved, but only with consideration that they faced the rather sloppy and uneventful Minnesota offense.

Lacking depth and experience at the playmaking positions of wide receiver, running back and tight end, the Gophers offense mustered up only 14 points and 262 net yards in four 15 minute quarters of running time.

“I think it was a pretty darn impressive display of defense by our kids,” Brewster said.

But solid performances were had by two sophomores who were freshmen starters last season and showed a glimmer of hope for a successful offense in the fall – running back Duane Bennett and quarterback Adam Weber.

Weber picked up two touchdowns on the evening, his first on an untouched fourth-down, 1-yard bootleg run into the end zone after Minnesota’s first-team defense stopped the Gophers’ first-team offense on the goal-line on three consecutive plays in the second quarter.

The second and only other touchdown of the night for Weber and Minnesota came by way of a 13-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Ralph Spry, helping the 2007 All-Big Ten freshmen signal caller finish 10-of-14 passing on the night for 65 yards.

“Adam Weber continues to be a very solid quarterback for us in this system.” Brewster said.

With only two available running backs Friday because of junior Jay Thomas’ recovery from last season’s knee injury and sophomore Damola Ogundipe’s collar bone injury during spring practice, Bennett and fellow sophomore R.J. Buckner each carried the load for the Gophers on Friday.

Bennett finished the night with 43 yards on 11 carries for the first-team offense, while Buckner tallied 42 yards on 15 carries for the second-team.

Not feeling satisfied with his performance after fumbling the ball on his first carry of the night and not taking advantage of large holes created by the offensive line to break longer runs, Bennett said the spring game was a learning experience for him and something that will drive him to work harder this summer.

“I know that when the season hits that I want to be full-go and not have to worry about anything,” he said. “I felt like I needed to come out and perform, but I felt like I didn’t do what I needed to do to help the team.”

Awaiting the arrival of at least five talented freshmen who will line up at wide receiver this fall and the return of leading receiver Eric Decker from the Gophers baseball team, Minnesota showed a lack of playmaking ability and offensive firepower.

“Coach Brewster has brought in a good class, and if there’s guys that can come in and help us win right now, I’m all for it,” Weber said of the incoming wide receiver recruits. “Let’s get them here as soon as we can.”

The Gophers defensive line added to the problems for Minnesota’s passing attack, providing a constant push toward the quarterback and swarming to the ball in a way the line didn’t in 2007.

Adding weight to the defensive line in the off-season, a healthy senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg helped the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback and force the Gophers offense to go 5-of-19 on third-down conversions and also throw two interceptions, both by freshmen Clint Brewster.

“We have a very experienced group of guys; I was very happy with what we did out there tonight,” said senior defensive tackle Eric Small, who bulked up from around 260 pounds last season to nearly 300 currently.

Minnesota could look like a very different team on both sides of the ball next time they play in the Metrodome on August 30 against Northern Illinois, with 27 nationally ranked freshmen recruits coming in that will compete for playing time.

But for now, the current product on the field does reflect the extra offseason work it put in to improve from 2007’s 1-11 record and nightmarish defense.

“We did a lot of the things necessary to improve our football team,” Brewster said. “I like what we are doing defensively and our kids are starting to play with an edge.”

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