Kill: Infant steps taken, onto summer

Minnesota’s spring game showed the team has plenty to do before the season.

Kill: Infant steps taken, onto summer

Josh Katzenstein

Head coach Jerry Kill wasnâÄôt hesitant to call SaturdayâÄôs spring football game the GophersâÄô 15th practice. The team scrimmaged for 80 minutes, didnâÄôt have punts or kickoffs and didnâÄôt keep score in front of the crowd of 2,500 or so. Yeah, sounds like a practice. But even with limited numbers âÄî 13 players sat out with injuries âÄî Kill could make an assessment of where Minnesota stands after spring football. âÄúI do think thereâÄôs progress being made. Infant steps,âÄù he said. âÄúWe need more speed, and we need more athleticism. ThatâÄôs something I said from the very beginning when I came in. WeâÄôve just got to increase it and thatâÄôs not going to happen overnight.âÄù The progress made over 15 practices was tough to measure Saturday. The Gophers had just five healthy wide receivers available, and freshman Marcus Jones was the only among the group who will likely see significant playing time in 2011. The defense couldnâÄôt hit the quarterbacks, senior running backs Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge were unimpressive and Chris HawthorneâÄôs 50-yard field goal was the most noteworthy play of the day. Still, with Kill leading the team and players buying in, the Gophers are confident about next season even if the spring game didnâÄôt provide glaring reasons for optimism. âÄúYou never know until you get out there for a game and play against the competition,âÄù senior safety Kim Royston said, citing penalties as an area needing improvement. âÄúIf we get those little things ironed out thereâÄôs no reason we canâÄôt win ball games in the fall.âÄù The Gophers also have to continue to take strides over the summer when coaches arenâÄôt around to provide guidance because of NCAA rules. âÄúTheyâÄôve got to take where they left off today and when we start two-a-day camp we better be better,âÄù Kill said. âÄúThatâÄôs the whole key.âÄù The other key is Kill having the playersâÄô attention. ThereâÄôs no telling how much the Gophers will improve before fall camp begins, but the first-year coach sounds happy the team is listening to what he has to say to this point. âÄúChange is the hardest thing in the world,âÄù Kill said. âÄúThese kids have gone through three or four different coordinators, different coaches, didnâÄôt have a head coach during the season. If IâÄôm one of those kids, IâÄôm not trusting anybody. ItâÄôs hard for them. âĦ I think theyâÄôve handled it pretty good.âÄù Notes -Redshirt freshman running back Donnell Kirkwood scored the only touchdown Saturday, a three-yard run up the gut. Kirkwood set up the score with a 27-yard run up the middle, the longest play from scrimmage of the day. -Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, hit both of his field goals Saturday including a 50-yarder, a positive sign for a team that struggled in the kicking game in recent seasons. Eric Ellestad made just 11 of 17 field goal attempts in 2010. -Sophomore quarterback Moses Alipate played with the second team offense Saturday because Tom Parish was nursing an injury. Alipate was fairly accurate during the scrimmage, picking up multiple third-and-longs. âÄúHe did some things today that we hadnâÄôt seen in practice to this point, so he improved,âÄù Kill said. âÄúI was excited about that for him.âÄù Despite being relegated to third-string during spring practice, Alipate said he has no plans of leaving Minnesota or changing positions. -Cornerback Troy Stoudermire unloaded another lethal hit during the spring game, this time laying out the speedy Jones to force an incompletion. Stoudermire has easily been the steadiest defensive player during spring ball. -Asked which unit improved most over spring practice, Kill said the defensive line. The Gophers were last in the Big Ten last season with just nine sacks.