2014 Minnesota Preview: What You Need To Know
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Minnesota (Getty Images)
2014 Minnesota Preview
What You Need To Know...
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense:
You know what's coming, but can you stop it? The hope will be to balance things out a wee bit more after averaging 195 rushing yards and 148 passing per game, but the ground attack could be way too good and way too effective to try much of anything else. There's a deep stable of backs with all of the top running backs returning, but the key to the puzzle is QB Mitch Leidner, a big, young, talented runner who's growing into a decent midrange passer. Are there any receivers to help him out? There isn't a sure-thing killer of a No. 1 target to keep defensive coordinators up at night, but the Gophers will have to do a good job of catching defenses napping. The line loses Ed Olson at left tackle but gets everyone else back – it should be terrific at pounding away for the ground attack.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Tracy Claeys turned in a brilliant year filling in for Jerry Kill midway through the season, but now he gets to concentrate on a defense that improved as the season went on and should be among the best in the Big Ten against the run. There's no more Ra'Shede Hageman up front or Brock Vereen in the secondary, but Damien Wilson and the linebacking corps are solid and pass rusher Theiren Cockran and tackle Cameron Botticelli are excellent starters up front. There are playmakers in the secondary with corner Eric Murray and safety Cedric Thompson on the verge of all-star honors, but they're going to need help from a line that has to get into the backfield more. That might be tough without Hageman as the anchor.
Players You Need To Know
1. RB David Cobb, Sr.
It was supposed to be Donnell Kirkwood show, and it could be again from time to time. Berkley Edwards was the hot shot recruit out of Michigan with the right running style and talent to become exactly what the Gopher offense needed. But it turned out to be Cobb who took over the offense. A total afterthought in his first few seasons, he stepped up and ran for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns while finishing third on the team with 17 catches for 174 yards. The 5-11, 225-pound tough guy out of Texas hit the 100-yard mark six times and was one of the few able to crack the Michigan State code, running 27 times for 101 yards in the loss. While he's not a blazer, he's a pounding workhorse with good vision and cutback ability. His stats might go down with more of a rotation, but he should still be the team's most effective back.
2. QB Mitch Leidner, Soph.
Philip Nelson appeared to be the main man for the quarterback job because of his passing ability, but Leidner moved the offense better when he got the chance. The tremendous local recruit and great get for the program, he's 6-4, 233 pounds, and a bull to bring down when he gets a head of steam. His passing was okay, completing 55% of his throws for 619 yards and three touchdowns with a pick, but when he wasn't making the occasional big third down throw, the offense quickly bogged down. His worth was as a runner, finishing second on the team with 407 yards and seven scores including 151 yards and four touchdowns against San Jose State and used as a key part of a rotation throughout the season. Now the job is all his, and while he still might need a little while to improve as a passer, he should be more efficient. He has the size and the tools to grow into a star.
3. DE Theiren Cockran, Jr.
The coaching staff said he was going to get a long look in fall camp last year, and he came through. The team's top pass rusher, the 6-6, 238-pound Florida native has great athleticism and a terrific frame for getting behind the line, Along with his 30 tackles, he came up with four forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss, spreading out the work over the course of the season including 1.5 sacks against Nebraska.
4. LB Damien Wilson, Sr.
The leader of the defense, the 6-2, 254-pound man in the middle came in from Jones County CC and finished second on the team with 78 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. Very big and very tough, he's built for the rigors of the Big Ten, growing into a nasty run defender stuffing everything that came his way with ten tackles against Iowa and eight in four other games. He's not going to be spectacular, but he's sound.
5. S Cedric Thompson, Sr.
Built to be a safety, the 5-10, 211-pound veteran from California proved to be a strong, big hitter working well against the run with a team-leading 79 tackles with a pick and two tackles for loss. The former high school running back can cut on a dime and has great instincts to get around the ball. However, his two best games – ten tackles against Iowa and 14 against Syracuse – came in losses. If he's needed too much, the front seven isn't doing its job.
6. OG Zac Eppling, Sr.
The Gophers have a strong, steady line that's great at paving the way for the ground attack. The 6-2, 321-pound Epping worked over the last few years as a center and then a guard, starting 34 games over the course of his career. He was a steady quarterback up front, and he'll still get a look in the middle but he proved to be way too good at guard and way too strong a run blocker – he's one of the team's strongest players.
7. P Peter Mortell, Jr.
A backup and a holder in the first part of his career, he took over the punting gig last season and came up with a whale of a season averaging 43.3 yards per punt putting 21 inside the 20. Considering how much field position means with an offense like Minnesota's, he was able to flip the field time and again with big kicks, blasting away with 15 going behind 40 yards including a 62-yarder against Penn State.
8. OT Josh Campion, Jr.
The next really good Minnesota offensive tackle, he's 6-5, 326 pounds and can move. Coming in from Fork Union Military Academy, he turned out to be a nice surprise two years ago, doing a great job of burying his man and locking on a defender. He might not be all that quick as a pass protector, but he's a sound right tackle who could get a long look on the left side.
9. DT Cameron Botticelli, Sr.
The defensive line worked around Ra'Shede Hageman, but Botticelli came through with a nice season of his own. The 6-5, 290-pound veteran is an active presence with great quickness off the ball. The call went out to start doing more behind the line, and he did with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with his 23 stops. While he won't be an anchor, he'll be the top defender inside.
10. CB Eric Murray, Jr.
A pleasant surprise, the 6-0, 194-pounder out of Milwaukee went from being a non-descript special teamer to one of the team's best defensive backs. Challenged by teams staying away from Brock Vereen, Murray came through with a team-high ten broken up passes to go along with 52 tackles. Great in the open field, he can hit and he has the size to get physical with the bigger receivers. Now he's the No. 1 cover-corner.
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