Running backs spring into action

Gary Russell and Amir Pinnix were on display in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Matt Anderson

Since the middle of January, it’s been known Marion Barber III wouldn’t be in Minnesota’s football team’s backfield come spring drills.

In spring practice’s first scrimmage at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Saturday, Barber’s former backfield-mate, Laurence Maroney, was also absent with a banged-up right knee.

That left sophomores Gary Russell and Amir Pinnix center-stage in the battle for second running back.

Each back showed flashes of promise while splitting time with the Minnesota first- and second-team offenses.

“They’re going to have to step up and pick up for the void with Barber gone,” coach Glen Mason said. “And heck, when you’re a second-teamer, you’re one play away from being a first-teamer Ö so it’s good to give those guys good work.”

Russell was most impressive in a series against the second-team offense, gaining three yards on a fourth-and-one play and later scoring on a 21-yard touchdown run.

Later, against the second-team defense, Russell took a delay for another run of more than 20 yards.

Russell said it was important he seize the opportunity to prove himself against the first team Saturday.

“I look at it as we need two, possibly three, running backs, trying to work up into the two spot,” Russell said. “I’m third right now, so I’ve got to work.”

Pinnix was less flashy than Russell but proved steadier, consistently gaining quality yardage.

Cupito’s mixed results

Junior quarterback Bryan Cupito was able to enjoy his first spring scrimmage having a starting job locked up.

Though he has the job security he didn’t have last spring, Cupito remained troubled by the inconsistency that plagued him last season.

On the first team’s first series, he threw a 75-yard touchdown strike to receiver Ernie Wheelwright. Two series later, he was intercepted for a touchdown by safety John Pawielski when Cupito locked in on Wheelwright running a sideline route.

In his next series, Cupito threw a ball Trumaine Banks nearly intercepted when he again stared down Wheelwright.

“We didn’t come out with the same focus the second time we went out there,” Cupito said. “But I still made a bad play for a touchdown to the other team. I can’t do that.”

Defense dominates

After Wheelwright’s touchdown, the first-team defense stiffened, allowing the offense one field goal drive in three more series.

“We want to come out of spring being a better tackling team and a better swarming team,” new defensive coordinator David Lockwood said. “The more you swarm, obviously, the more opportunity you have to make plays.”