Running back shortage at open scrimmage

Matt Perkins

Coach Glen Mason said he needs to face the facts.

Minnesota’s football team saw its first live action of the spring at practice Saturday at the Gibson-Nagurkski Complex, which was open to the public, and they were without running back Amir Pinnix.

Pinnix suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Tuesday and will be sidelined for the remainder of the spring.

And with Laurence Maroney preparing himself for the 2006 NFL draft and Gary Russell out for academic reasons, the Gophers are without an experienced running back.

“The last couple of springs we’ve had a few NFL running backs in there,” Mason said. “Let’s face it, the projected starter (Pinnix) is on the sidelines and the other guy (junior college transfer Brylee Callender) has been here about 32 seconds.”

And that’s something the Gophers can’t afford.

During practice for Minnesota it was Callender, a junior, and fullback Justin Valentine getting most of the carries in the team’s single back, run-first offense.

And Mason himself joked about Callender’s lack of experience and referred to Valentine as a “spare.”

“(Valentine) is more of a fullback/H-back type,” Mason said. “He’s a spare at running back.”

But as of now he’s the Gophers’ number one or two option.

Run second, pass first?

Minnesota’s running game lost its power.

Although Maroney and Russell will be missed, center Greg Eslinger and guard Mark Setterstrom will be missed even more.

And starting quarterback Bryan Cupito said it’s been hard to adjust to the new faces on the offensive line.

But the fact that their passing game appears to be in sync mid-spring has given Cupito and his wide receivers a boost of confidence.

“Our passing game is going a lot better, we just got to get our running game going,” Cupito said. “That’s the reverse of the last few years basically.”

Cupito said that this year is going to be a new experience because the pressure that once was put on the Gophers running game might now be put on the passing game.

And that’s made him develop a new attitude.

“I know I have to make plays. That’s been my weakness the last couple of years Ö I knew if I didn’t make a play Laurence (Maroney) or Marion (Barber III) would,” Cupito said. “That’s a bad attitude to have. My attitude this year is that I have to make every play.”

Defensive intensity down

Minnesota’s defensive coordinator David Lockwood said after Saturday’s scrimmage that he noticed a lack of emotion from his group of guys.

Emotion and intensity is something the Gophers had plenty of last year, Lockwood said, but it appears to be nonexistent at the halfway point of the spring.

“That’s probably the most disappointing thing coming out of spring,” Lockwood said. “I think all the other stuff can be corrected itself.”

Minnesota lost vocal leader and middle linebacker Mike McKenzie to eligibility, so now the team must look elsewhere for vocal leadership.

“Some of the guys we have just lack that personality,” Lockwood said. “One example is (outside linebacker) Mario Reese. He’s played a lot of football for us and made a lot of plays, but he’s just not a verbal, emotional type of guy, and when he does give some he still kind of holds it back. It’s a combination of both having a lot of young guys and not having the vocal leader just yet.”