Gray making strong case for top QB

Also, coach Kill has been working individually with the punters.

Josh Katzenstein

Six practices into spring football, MarQueis Gray has done nothing short of blow other players away in what is supposedly a quarterback competition.

He completes more passes than others vying for the position, he makes longer runs and he just makes better decisions.

But even the teamâÄôs best signal caller has plenty of work to do in order to compete in the Big Ten.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to be patient,âÄù head coach Jerry Kill said. âÄúWe donâÄôt have a choice.âÄù

Although the GophersâÄô new offense shares many commonalities with last seasonâÄôs, Gray and other quarterbacks have a lot to learn. With time and effort comes the payoff, Kill hopes. And by the time September rolls around, Gray might not be botching snaps, as he did at least once during SaturdayâÄôs practice at TCF Bank Stadium âÄî even though he ran it back to the line of scrimmage.

Gray feels like heâÄôs improving with each practice, but there was a slight drop off when he donned pads Tuesday. In the third practice in pads, though, he completed an early 70-yard touchdown pass (35 yards in the air) to DaâÄôJon McKnight, making it look incredibly simple.

âÄúEveryoneâÄôs starting to get into a rhythm now that itâÄôs practice six, and weâÄôre moving on,âÄù Gray said.

Punting on the rise

With the move outdoors Saturday, the GophersâÄô punting unit could finally practice in full.

Kill has been working one-on-one with the punters, but if his coaching is any indication, the person snapping had just as much to do with Minnesota having the worst net punting average in the Football Bowl Series last season.

Long snapper Jake Filkins gets an earful any time he makes a poor snap. Asked if the target of his yelling spats is in the doghouse, Kill acted as though there is no doghouse.

âÄúI would yell at you if you get in my way,âÄù Kill said. âÄúThatâÄôs just coaching. ItâÄôs not personal. ItâÄôs not being tough âĦ He had a bad snap. I let him know.âÄù

The punters themselves did âÄúpretty well,âÄù Kill said, and Dan Orseske boomed a few over 50 yards. The new coach hasnâÄôt shied from yelling at the punter either, but Orseske just takes it in stride âÄî with a different stride from last year since Kill changed his footwork.

âÄúI think IâÄôm a lot more mentally focused this year,âÄù Orseske said.

Around the Brock

Based on his play this spring, football genes apparently just run in cornerback Brock VereenâÄôs family.

VereenâÄôs brother Shane played at California and is one of the top-rated running backs in the 2011 NFL draft. His father Henry was an NFL wide receiver.

The excellence in his family line motivates him to an extent, but Vereen has had no choice but to improve quickly during spring practice. He regularly lines up across from freshman Marcus Jones, the GophersâÄô fastest receiver.

One of SaturdayâÄôs best plays came from Vereen, who made an acrobatic interception that sparked gasps from the 500 or so fans at the stadium.

âÄúI would love to make a play like that every play,âÄù Vereen said.

He also made an impressive interception Tuesday, taking the ball from GeâÄôShun Harris as the two fell to the ground.