Gophers begin football camp

Brewster said junior quarterback Adam Weber’s starting job is secure, but he will try to work freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray into the mix whenever possible.

by Max Sanders

The GophersâÄô season opener against Syracuse is approaching quickly, but coaches are using this weekâÄôs fall camp to determine who will take the field Sept. 5. Head coach Tim Brewster has stressed that all starting spots are up for grabs âÄî with the exception of quarterback Adam Weber âÄî making this camp, which began Monday, one of MinnesotaâÄôs most competitive and something the players seem to enjoy. âÄúHaving competition is always a great thing,âÄù sophomore Duane Bennett said. âÄúIt always keeps you on your Ps and Qs and makes you continue to work and get better on different aspects of your game.âÄù One of the most hotly contested spots up for grabs is BennettâÄôs position: running back. The Gophers struggled at the position last year, finishing last in the Big Ten in total rushing yards, yards per game and yards per carry. Minnesota thought four-star recruit Hasan Lipscomb was going to be the answer to MinnesotaâÄôs rushing woes, but academic issues forced Lipscomb to enroll in junior college. Focusing on the players present at camp remains the top priority, Bennett said. âÄúWe canâÄôt really incorporate guys that arenâÄôt going to be able to help us this year,âÄù Bennett said. âÄúFor those guys that arenâÄôt here, we got to go without them, because you canâÄôt sit back and game plan with a guy thatâÄôs not going to be present.âÄù Bennett was MinnesotaâÄôs starting running back heading into last season, but a knee injury in the second game ended his season early. Sophomore DeLeon Eskridge stepped in for Bennett and was the leading rusher on the season, but with Bennett healthy âÄî as well as Jay Thomas , Shady Salamon and newcomer Kevin Whaley looking to join the mix âÄî Eskridge faces steep competition to line up in 2009 as the starting tailback. Brewster continues to say the competition will last throughout camp, but at least one running back believes Bennett has the early edge. âÄúDuane being a vet, heâÄôs really stepping out after his injury. HeâÄôs looking really good,âÄù Thomas said. âÄúI think heâÄôs ahead of the race a little bit right now, just because heâÄôs more of a student of the game.âÄù Weber said he feels a key to the Gophers offense is establishing a running game, no matter who is the starter. âÄúWeâÄôre looking for our run game to really allow us to establish controlling the ball in games,âÄù Weber said. âÄúWhen itâÄôs third and short, we expect to make it 100 percent of the time, which we struggled with last year.âÄù Arguably the biggest key to the Gophers offense âÄî and perhaps their season âÄî rests in the hands of senior wide receiver Eric Decker . After missing spring practices while playing baseball, fall camp provides a chance for Decker to catch up with the playbook and schemes of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch . âÄúItâÄôs a faster pace, but itâÄôs exciting to be back,âÄù Decker said. âÄúItâÄôs probably going to take me a week or so to kind of ease myself back into it, but IâÄôm feeling more comfortable as I spend more time on the field.âÄù Weber knows that despite the new offensive schemes put in place by Fisch, the tandem of Weber-to-Decker, which produced seven touchdowns and more than 1,000 receiving yards last year, is going to be crucial to the success of the offense this season. âÄúHeâÄôs going to do some big things for us,âÄù Weber said. âÄúCoach Fisch is going to get him involved in some unique ways. WeâÄôre looking forward to him catching a lot of balls and doing a lot of great things.âÄù Brewster says the relationship off the field between Decker and Weber, who are roommates, has translated to on the field results. âÄúThey donâÄôt even have to use hand signals; they use body language to determine routes,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThatâÄôs what happens when you got two guys that really believe in each other and work well together.âÄù While Decker remains the GophersâÄô featured weapon on offense, Minnesota has a new receiver that it hopes can provide Weber with an equally potent long ball threat. Junior college transfer Hayo Carpenter is seen by Brewster as a player who has the potential to step in and make an immediate contribution to the program. âÄúOne thing you can see immediately is his speed,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúHe can really stretch the field vertically, get down the field and obviously he does a great job of pushing the corners off.âÄù Weber said he was also impressed by CarpenterâÄôs speed during the first day of practice. With further practice and repetitions, he said Carpenter can develop into a potentially dangerous weapon alongside Decker. âÄúHayo Carpenter is a football player that can run fast,âÄù Weber said. âÄúThatâÄôs a great, great thing to have, and itâÄôll be only beneficial for us to have him on the same field as Eric.âÄù While Brewster has already tabbed Weber as the starter at the quarterback position, freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray is expected to receive extended playing time during the season, and it might come at a position other than under center. âÄúI believe heâÄôs one of the best athletes weâÄôve got on this team,âÄù Decker said. âÄúIf we were to put him at wide receiver, IâÄôm sure he could play that too. TheyâÄôre doing the best they can to utilize his abilities.âÄù The Gophers will have their first official practice at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, and 27 days later the doors will open for the first-ever regular season game against Air Force. Looking forward to that game without looking past Syracuse is something everyone on the team, including Brewster, admits is a challenge. âÄúItâÄôs hard not to look ahead, to be quite honest with you,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be such an important, such an emotional day. It means so much to the state of Minnesota, but the work that needs to be done on September the fifth is whatâÄôs most important.âÄù