Gophers fight for positions Saturday

The spring game will be a chance for coaches to evaluate many players currently in position battles.

John Hageman

The term âÄúposition battleâÄù has been thrown around a lot lately at the spring practices of the Minnesota football team, and the quarterback position is no exception. The Gophers will take the field Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium for the spring football game, in what Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster likened to a final exam for both senior Adam Weber and sophomore MarQueis Gray for the starting quarterback job in the fall. Brewster added that soon after the spring game, the team will announce who will be the starting quarterback going into their summer workouts. But for Weber, the competition never ends. âÄúI always feel like IâÄôm playing for my job,âÄù Weber said. âÄúYou want to go out there and perform, and thatâÄôs what you want to do every single time.âÄù Should Weber earn the starting job for the fourth year in a row, Brewster said that Gray would be used in the offense at other positions, but not as a starter. âÄúIf [Gray] is the back-up, heâÄôs one play away from being the starter, so he needs reps.âÄù Brewster said. âÄúI donâÄôt know how you could be a starter at another position and be the No. 2 quarterback.âÄù Gray added even if he is not named the starter, he plans on being a big part of the offense. While Weber may have a leg up with his experience, other positions are simply up for grabs. While former Minnesota player Eric Decker awaits his fate Thursday at the NFL Draft, the wide receiver position is very much wide open for the Gophers. Brewster said he has been happy with the progress of the younger receivers so far this spring. âÄúI think theyâÄôve all taken a step up,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúTheyâÄôve all got talent, but theyâÄôve got to be precise.âÄù Decker and the also departed tight end Nick Tow-Arnett accounted for 87 of the GophersâÄô 199 receptions last year . But the GophersâÄô third-leading receiver, junior Troy Stoudermire , said he and the other receivers donâÄôt feel the pressure of Decker and Tow-ArnettâÄôs absence. âÄúWe just have to step it up,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúWhoever is open is going to get the ball.âÄù Another major change on the offensive side has been the hiring of co-offensive coordinator Jeff Horton . Although Horton was formerly the quarterbacks coach with the Detroit Lions , Brewster said the focus for the offense will be on running the ball more consistently. The Gophers were 11th in the Big Ten last season in rushing offense, averaging just under 100 yards a game on the ground. But for junior DeLeon Eskridge, the simplicity Horton brings to the playbook will make for a more effective offense. âÄúIf a play is called, weâÄôve already ran it a hundred times, so there should be no confusion on whatâÄôs going on,âÄù Eskridge said. âÄúItâÄôs better to simplify it.âÄù With the GophersâÄô second-leading rusher Kevin WhaleyâÄôs transferring from the team , Eskridge and fellow junior Duane Bennett should see some shared carries next season, along with the arrival of three freshmen in the backfield. Brewster did not rule out the possibility of a freshman coming in and making an impact right away. âÄúItâÄôs been done,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúAs IâÄôve told all these guys, I donâÄôt care whether or not theyâÄôre a freshman or whether or not theyâÄôre a senior; the best player is going to play.âÄù A large part of the running gameâÄôs success next season will depend on the offensive line, which has not lost any starters from last season. âÄúWeâÄôve run the ball with some consistency [this spring],âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThe competition I think has elevated the play, and the continuity within the system has really helped.âÄù Despite some key departures, the offense has remained relatively intact compared to what will be a young defensive unit. With the departure of three starting seniors and junior Gary TinsleyâÄôs legal issues yet to be resolved, the linebacker position should have a new look in the fall. Brewster said sophomore Mike Rallis will be the GophersâÄô starting strong-side linebacker, but the other two linebacker positions still have to be solidified. Brewster added that sophomore Keanon Cooper and freshman Aaron Hill have been battling for the weak-side position, while freshman Sam Maresh has put in a lot of extra time as well. While many positions have been up for grabs throughout the spring, Weber said the competition within the team has made each player strive to improve. But he added that the competition at any position doesnâÄôt end with the spring game. âÄúItâÄôs a great thing to have competition,âÄù Weber said. âÄúYou know youâÄôre struggling as a team when you only have one guy and youâÄôre stuck. ItâÄôs nice to know we have guys that can push each other and any given day and any given week, we could have a different guy starting.âÄù The Gophers will kick off their spring game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium .