Gophers ready for change of pace: spread offense is in

Despite years of a pounding running attack, Minnesota will spread the field.

Tyler Rushmeyer

The Minnesota football team opened fall practice Monday at St. John’s University with the goal of avoiding distractions.

With no cell phones, laptops, or television allowed for the duration of the week, the Gophers’ coaching staff hopes its team will use that time to bond.

Minnesota’s players on the offensive side of the ball might want to use their time studying the playbook, complete with an entirely new scheme in place for the 2007 season.

The Spread Coast Offense is the scheme, and 27-year coaching veteran Mike Dunbar will be the man leading it, bringing his coaching skills to Minnesota where he will serve as offensive coordinator.

Previously, Dunbar has led some of the highest scoring offenses in the nation – at California (2006), Northwestern (2002-2005) and Toledo (1992-96).

Coach Tim Brewster said the Gophers are lucky to have Dunbar on their 2007 coaching staff.

“He’s one of the most veteran, experienced coordinators in football,” he said. “We had a great spring with this new system, and we’re looking to continue that here in the fall.”

Minnesota’s traditionally rush-oriented offense will get an extreme makeover this season as the new offensive coaching staff looks to install Dunbar’s system – a huge change from the Glen Mason era.

Designed to keep defenses off-balance, the Spread Coast Offense offers the Gophers a larger variety of ways to attack opponents than in years past.

Vital to the system’s success will be the starting quarterback, the position that appears to have four candidates vying for it as the opener looms just over three weeks away.

In the mix are juniors Tony Mortensen and Mike Maciejowski, redshirt freshman Adam Weber and incoming freshman Clint Brewster.

Coach Brewster said he has confidence in the position as all four have picked up the new offense well.

Senior running back Amir Pinnix agreed and said the quarterback position is not a concern as fall camp begins.

“Each player brings something different to the table,” he said. “I’m confident whoever starts on Sept. 1 will be successful.”

Looking at the 2007 offense, the Gophers bring back six starters, including seniors Pinnix, wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright; center Tony Brinkhaus; offensive tackle Steve Shidell; junior tight end Jack Simmons; and sophomore guard Ned Tavale.

The biggest offensive pieces departing at the conclusion of last season were three-year starting quarterback Bryan Cupito, tight end Matt Spaeth – drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers – and wide receiver Logan Payne, currently in the Seattle Seahawks camp.

With the key pieces gone and a new system in place, Minnesota’s offense will presumably have challenges ahead of them in the coming months.

For Shidell, it’s an exciting time to bring the new scheme to the table.

“We’ve been extremely run-orientated in the past and now we’re going to open the offense up and throw the ball around a lot,” he said. “It really gives a chance to showcase the talent we have throughout this offense.”