Spring Practice Report: Competition fuels chippy Gophers

by Jack Satzinger

These Gophers are arguably the deepest in head coach Jerry Kill’s three years at Minnesota, which is fueling competition among teammates. That was evident in the Gophers’ fifth – and by far most chippy – spring practice Thursday.

“You’ve got to play with some intensity in this game,” Kill said. “Like I said, this game ain’t for everybody.”

The physicality started from the top, with team leader Mitch Leidner challenging defensive players after the whistle blew. Kill said Leidner is just sticking up for his teammates, but would prefer his quarterback to abstain from any extracurricular activity that could potentially get him hurt. Needless to say, Leidner’s teammates enjoy his competitive fire.

“That’s why they follow him,” Kill said. “He’s a tough sucker.”

Defensive lineman Theiren Cockran said intense practices happen more often now than in the past, because Minnesota has more depth at every position. That depth causes even more competition for starting spots.

Competition will likely be highest in the defensive backs group, which is loaded with talent even after losing Brock Vereen for the NFL Draft. Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Wells have not suited up for spring practice due to injury, but will be part of Minnesota’s seasoned defensive backs corps assuming they are healthy by the start of the season.

“We get Briean Boddy and Derrick healthy, we’ve got a chance to be really really good in the secondary,” Kill said.

Last week Kill said cornerback Eric Murray is already a great player that will play in the NFL someday. He’s likely a lock to start next season, with Boddy-Calhoun or Wells on the other side.

Whoever is left out of the starting rotation should see the field often, too. The Gophers struggled in certain defensive back-heavy formations last season. That shouldn’t be a problem in 2014.

“We really got hurt last year on third downs and we had trouble in nickel because we fell short on bodies,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “I really think our pass defense will get better, especially in those situations.”

Minnesota ranked fifth in the Big Ten in pass defense last season, but slipped to seventh in third down situations. Opponents converted third down tries 36.8-pecent of the time against the Gophers. That number could drop next season due to Minnesota's depth at defensive back. 

“We have six quality guys there,” Claeys said. “They’re going to have to accept the roles that they get.”