Gophers’ spring game displays growth

Rodrick Williams scored the only touchdown during the spring game.

Gophers quarterback Chris Streveler runs with the ball durring the spring football game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Image by Patty Grover

Gophers quarterback Chris Streveler runs with the ball durring the spring football game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

by Jack Satzinger

To fans expecting a show, Minnesota’s spring football game Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium likely came as a disappointment.

With an announced crowd of 4,752 fans scattered throughout the 50,805-seat stadium and quarterbacks in green limited-contact jerseys, the atmosphere contrasted that of a normal game.

But the Gophers have been working all spring to ensure that TCF Bank Stadium is packed to the max when the season opens in August. There were flashes of that Saturday, courtesy of running backs Berkley Edwards and Rodrick Williams.

Edwards was responsible for the intra-squad scrimmage’s only touchdown, streaking down the left sideline for a 33-yard run. Edwards started the game on the wrong foot, dropping a screen pass and later fumbling a handoff he recovered.

His touchdown, however, affirmed the notion that he could give the team’s offense another dimension next year. Edwards finished with 46 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

“I like his style of running. … His feet [are] ridiculous,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to work that much harder, though.”

Williams had a solid game himself, leading the Gophers with 52 rushing yards. Edwards likes to go outside, but Williams makes his living running up the gut, using his 235-pound frame to bounce off defensive players.

Williams showed he can be physical without the ball, too. At one point, he decked defensive lineman Ben Perry.

“To me, it’s just football,” Williams said.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is also known for being more physical at his position, but he was barely touched Saturday in his customary green jersey.

While running is a big part of Leidner’s game — he rushed for seven touchdowns last season — he wasn’t able to get much going Saturday, gaining just six yards in as many attempts.

Most of the plays were whistled dead as defenders converged on the quarterback.

“It can be tough at times,” Leidner said. “There’s times when you think you’ve got a first down, and then they mark you short.”

Leidner threw the game’s only interception after Jalen Myrick broke a deep throw intended for Drew Wolitarsky. Still, the coaches didn’t seem too worried about the turnover.

Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said he thought it was a good throw, while head coach Jerry Kill gave Myrick credit for making a great play on the ball.

Minnesota backup quarterback Chris Streveler also got significant tick in the game and finished 4-for-5 for 44 yards through the air. He added 11 yards on the ground.

Streveler said he thought the offense performed well but noted that this is only the beginning for the team.

“We’re just going to keep growing and getting better and better,” he said.

Myrick was one of the game’s defensive stars, but with all the talent in the secondary next season, playing time could be hard for him to find.

“We’re really deep in the secondary,” Kill said.

Myrick played plenty Saturday as the majority of the defense rested or nursed injuries. Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Wells are both trying to get stronger after missing much of the 2013 season with injuries.

Cameron Botticelli didn’t play after recently breaking his left foot, but Kill expects him to be back in about five weeks.

Though the defensive line appeared inexperienced with the absence of Botticelli and others, the group showed up to play, applying pressure that helped result in 12 tackles for loss.

Saturday wasn’t pretty or exciting, and it lacked many of the Gophers’ top players. But Kill and his staff said they’re comfortable with the team’s spring performance.

If that’s any indication, the football games four months from now should be a heck of a lot more fun to watch.

“I was a little bit worried going in, but they did a great job,” Kill said. “We need to look at some other people. That’s what you do in spring ball.”