Gophers fight injuries; Kill preaches toughness at spring practice

Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers football team has been fighting the flu and injuries over the past few weeks. 

The ailments have especially plagued the offensive line.  Five linemen were held out of Tuesday’s practice, the 10th of the spring.

“We’re getting thinner,” head coach Jerry Kill said after Tuesday's practice, “So hopefully we can stay injury free over the next four, five practices.” 

Junior center Brian Bobek has missed the last week and a half of practice with the flu.  Senior running back James Gillum and sophomore center Jon Christenson sustained injuries during Friday’s scrimmage.  Gillum did not practice Tuesday.

In his post-practice speech Tuesday, Kill stressed the importance of staying healthy. 

Throughout the spring, he has also emphasized mental and physical toughness.

“You don’t want to have everybody break and crumble during a game,” Kill said.  “You can correct it at practice, but you can’t correct it during a game.”

At the end of Friday’s scrimmage and Tuesday’s practice, Kill had the offense run goal-line plays against the defense. 

When the offense scored, the defense ran sprints, and when the defense made a stop, the offense ran. 

Both units bested each other Friday, but the offense scored on all five red zone possessions Tuesday.

The Gophers ranked sixth in the Big Ten in red zone offense and seventh in the conference in red zone defense last season.

“If you’re going to win in the Big Ten, or you’re going to win at any level,” Kill said, “you win down in the red zone, and you win on the goal line.” 

Notes:

-After looking sharp in Friday’s scrimmage, redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leinder threw several interceptions Tuesday.

-Junior running back Donnell Kirkwood, Gophers returning leading rusher, did not play in Friday’s scrimmage.  Kirkwood, whom the coaching staff held out of the scrimmage so they could evaluate other backs, said the offensive was lethargic at the start of Tuesday’s practice.  “Maybe we had a little scrimmage lag or whatever you want to call it,” he said. 

-The Gophers lost their top two cornerbacks to graduation, but Kill said that cornerbacks Briean Boddy, Derrick Wells and Eric Murray have all had played well this spring.  “Those three kids have really stepped up what they’re doing right now,” he said.  

-With Christenson and Bobek out, Ernie Heifort saw action at center during Tuesday’s practice.

-The Gophers have spent the spring stuck up inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.  The team is tentatively scheduled to make its outdoor debut Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.