March Madness is usually a term reserved for basketball teams caught up in postseason action.
Just don’t tell that to Minnesota football coach Glen Mason.
Though both Minnesota’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are alive in postseason action, the Gophers football team kicked off its spring practice Tuesday at the Bierman athletic complex. Thanks to a large number of returning players from last year’s squad, Mason said his latest spring practice is making him the most excited.
“I feel a lot better about this spring practice than any other since I’ve been here,” said Mason, who is beginning his seventh season as head coach for Minnesota. “We’ve got most of the ingredients already here that are going to be the making of our ball club.”
Other than Mason and his revamped coaching staff – including new assistant head coach Moe Ankney and new defensive coordinator Greg Hudson – the spotlight will no doubt be on junior wide receiver Paris Hamilton.
The junior college transfer from Tyler (TX) was rated as the top JC receiver available by JCFootball.com and will look to fill a large hole at the position left by Antoine Burns (team-high 526 receiving yards).
Mason said one of his goals for this season was to score more touchdowns from outside the red zone. Of Minnesota’s 65 touchdowns last season, 44 were from inside the 20-yard line.
Hamilton, who averaged 24 yards per catch last year for the Apaches, admitted he had a few butterflies prior to Tuesday’s practice but was aiming to make the big plays.
“One of the things the coaches stressed to me before I got here was that we need to score more points,” Hamilton said. “But I’m not going to be thinking about it. I just have to go out there and do what I came here to do, and that’s play football.”
Hamilton is listed as one of three top wide receivers on the spring depth chart joining seniors Tony Patterson and Aaron Hosack.
On the other side of the ball, the goal for this spring and on into the season is shoring up the run defense.
Mason tabbed finding the best combination on the defensive line as the top priority on defense, and statistics from last year prove that’s not a bad idea.
Not counting Minnesota’s 29-14 win over Arkansas in the Music City Bowl, the Gophers allowed an average of 344.6 yards rushing yards in their final three games, including 301 alone to Wisconsin’s Anthony Davis on Nov. 23.
The Razorbacks managed only 80 yards on the ground in the bowl game.
Senior defensive end Paul Nixon is using these next couple weeks as a refresher on stuffing opponents’ running backs.
“We had a real lapse at the end there where we couldn’t stop the run,” he said. “We’ve put it behind us because those games are done and over with, but we can’t forget it. We want to kick off this season much better.”
After a 15-day practice schedule that will include a few early morning get-togethers because of class conflicts, Minnesota will hold its annual spring game April 19. By that time Mason hopes to have all 90 members of spring camp – his largest – fully evaluated.
“We got 2003 out off on a good note (in the bowl game),” Mason said. “And we want to keep it there.”
Mason announced a handful of roster moves heading into spring.
Junior Chad Redmann moved from tight end to fullback, freshman Mario Reese from defensive end to linebacker, and junior Brandon Harston from defensive line to offensive line. In addition, junior defensive tackle Darrell Reid could also see time at defensive end this spring as an experiment.
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