Despite not keeping in contact with his players over the summer, Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill didn’t want them easing off the gas pedal before fall camp begins August 7.
“The big expectation is that our kids have been working hard in the off-season because of who we’re playing,” Kill said. “We’ll have to go to work a little earlier than we have with other opponents in the past.”
The Gophers open against Texas Christian University on September 3, meaning the team has no time to waste getting ready for the season. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 2 in college football in USA Today’s coaches poll.
A major focal point for the Gophers will be in the passing game. Last season, Minnesota finished 12th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten in passing yards per game.
The Gophers were also last in completions in the conference and second to last in completion percentage.
But now, despite the loss of tight end Maxx Williams to the National Football League, starting quarterback Mitch Leidner expects to be throwing more often.
“[It’s a] huge expectation for me,” Leidner said. “We’ve got a lot of good receivers that are going to be able to help me out with that.”
Leidner has worked this offseason to change the team’s passing statistics and went to the experts to learn how.
Leidner attended the Manning Passing Academy, run by Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning and their family. The team captain was a counselor at the camp in June, where he said he gained some valuable advice on and off the field.
Upon his return, Kill said Leidner came back with more confidence.
“He’s just worked hard to develop better techniques for him to be better,” Kill said. “He’s tired of hearing he can’t throw the ball.”
But Leidner can’t shoulder the offense singlehandedly.
The loss of Williams at tight end will be an adjustment, but Kill said that the team has a few options in sophomore Brandon Lingen, redshirt sophomore Duke Anyanwu and redshirt freshman Jerry Gibson.
“When camp rolls around, we’re going to see who wins that position battle,” Leidner said. “It’s good to have that kind of competition. Obviously, it’s hard to replace a guy like Maxx, but hopefully we’ll find a guy.”
As for receiver, Leidner predicted a big year for senior KJ Maye.
“KJ Maye is a stud,” Leidner said. “I think he outworks any receiver in the country.”
The Gophers also have three redshirt freshmen receivers they hope will make an impact this season: Desmond Gant, Isaiah Gentry and Melvin Holland Jr. All three are listed at 6 feet, 3 inches or taller and should provide a big target on the outside for Leidner.
“All three of those receivers stuck out,” Kill said. “Most of the kids who have stuck out have been on the offensive side of the ball.”
The three receivers are going to have to grow up quickly if they’re going to help the Gophers pass their hardest opening tests in years.
“We’ll find out who we are early, and that’s not all bad,” Kill said. “I think it’s made our offseason more productive, with more intensity, because we’re starting off with a great football team.”