Finding its rhythm, defense outplays offense at Tuesday’s practice

Defensive backs Kim Royston and Shady Salamon and linebacker Gary Tinsley all had interceptions, and Brock Vereen recovered a fumble.

Josh Katzenstein

The GophersâÄô defense just needed to slow down a little bit before it could speed things up in spring ball.

With about two-thirds of the new playbook installed, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he stopped adding new schemes because he wanted to see how good the players were without having to think all the time.

âÄúWeâÄôre not giving up a bunch of big plays, and weâÄôre playing with a lot more energy,âÄù he said after TuesdayâÄôs practice when the defense significantly out-performed the offense. âÄúThe kids seem like theyâÄôre having fun now as opposed to before when they were learning a bunch of stuff.âÄù

The defense had successful goal-line stands on three of the offenseâÄôs four tries Tuesday.

During the rest of practice, defensive tackle RaâÄôShede Hageman deflected two passes at the line and had a tackle for a loss. Defensive backs Kim Royston and Shady Salamon and linebacker Gary Tinsley all had interceptions, and Brock Vereen recovered a fumble.

âÄúWeâÄôre coming to practice with the mentality that weâÄôre going to do our doggone thing,âÄù senior defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey said.

Cornerback Troy Stoudermire might not have made the best play of the day, but it was certainly the loudest. He knew receiver Cameron Wilson, a new addition to the brown jersey club, was running an out route, so as soon as quarterback Tom Parish threw the ball âĦ

Pop.

âÄúI knew it was a big hit coming. Either that or an interception,âÄù said Stoudermire, who didnâÄôt even see Wilson drop the ball after the vicious hit.

The defensive line has improved most to this point in spring ball, Claeys said, but heâÄôs glad to see defensive backs making strides. After signing day, some people believed incoming freshmen could come in and play immediately for a maligned secondary.

âÄúSome of those younger kids are going to have to work a little bit,âÄù Claeys said. âÄúThose freshmen, theyâÄôre going to have to compete to get a job as long as the ones here do what theyâÄôre supposed to in the summer.âÄù

Keep running

Although the defense played well Tuesday, both sides had to run lines after making mistakes in practice. The offense just had to run a bit more.

Instead of typical sprints, though, Kill had the players hit the deck with their chests at every whistle.

âÄúThatâÄôs the only way I know how to fix things,âÄù Kill said. âÄúIâÄôve been doing that for 28 years and people have always commented, âÄòBoy coach, your teams played disciplined, hard-nosed football and they donâÄôt make a lot of mistakes.âÄôâÄù

The offense ran nine times at the end of practice because some players werenâÄôt dropping all the way to their chests. The defense only did the sprints four times, and eventually Royston started the defense chanting, âÄúLetâÄôs go O.âÄù

âÄúItâÄôs tough because at the end of the day weâÄôre all teammates,âÄù Kirksey said. âÄúIâÄôm glad it happened because if we canâÄôt do things right then it needs to be corrected before we play a game.âÄù

McKnight, Lair to miss spring game

Two of the GophersâÄô top pass catchers will miss SaturdayâÄôs spring game at TCF Bank Stadium due to injuries, most notably wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight, who hurt his left knee last week.

âÄúWeâÄôre just going to be real careful with him and not take a chance,âÄù Kill said. âÄúWe know what he can do, and we need to find out what other people can do.âÄù

Tight end Eric Lair (concussion) will also be held out for precautionary measures. The Gophers have a plethora of players sidelined for spring practice, but Kill said none of the injuries are too serious.

âÄúEvery one of them is going to be fine for the season,âÄù he said. âÄúThereâÄôs no critical injuries or anything like that. There are just things that are knick-knacks that weâÄôre not going to take a chance on.âÄù