2007 Minnesota Preview - Offense

Posted Apr 16, 2007

Preview 2007 Minnesota Golden Gopher Offense

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Minnesota Preview | 2007 UM Defense Preview
2007 UM Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Minnesota Preview 

What you need to know:
New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and his spread offense might seem like a radical departure for the Gophers, but the pieces are there, for the most part, for the thing to work right away with small, athletic linemen, quick running backs, and big receivers. The one thing missing is a steady quarterback who can hit the open receiver on a regular basis, meaning the Tony Mortensen vs. Adam Weber battle will go on until fall. Basically, the offense will undergo a change to achieve the same rushing results with a less effective passing game.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tony Mortensen
2-10, 15 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Amir Pinnix
252 carries, 1,272 yds, 10 TD
Ernie Wheelwright
26 catches, 437 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Amir Pinnix
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Tony Mortensen and/or redshirt freshman QB Adam Weber
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Dominic Alford
Best pro prospect: Junior TE Jack Simmons
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pinnix, 2) C Tony Brinkhaus, 3) Simmons
Strength of the offense: Running backs, starting offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, offensive line depth


Projected Starter: Is junior Tony Mortensen the right player to run the spread offense? He's a 6-3, 230-pound bomber with a great arm, but don't let his size fool you; he can run with his size allowing him to take a pounding. While he won't remind anyone of Vince Young, he's not a statue and should be able to crank out yards in bulk when the opportunity is there. It's not going to be all about the ground game; he has to make the Logan Payne-less receiving corps effective. It's a fast group that'll benefit from Mortensen's arm.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman Adam Weber is being given every shot to win the starting job. While he doesn't have Mortensen's arm, he's more mobile and built to run an offense like the Minnesota spread. All he's missing is more time and more reps.

Junior Mike Maciejowski has roughly the same makeup as Weber with good mobility, but he's the clear number three man in the mix. He doesn't have the passing upside of Mortensen or the running skills of Weber, but he's a nice emergency option.

Watch Out For ... Weber. It was basically assumed that Mortensen would be the man going into the season, but Weber's wheels could make him more than just a competitive number two option.
Strength: Mobility. All the quarterbacks can move enough to do what the offense wants. While the running backs are going to do the heavy lifting, whoever's under center should be able to rumble 7-10 times a game.
Mortensen's accuracy. He's only seen action in nine games, but he's been a disaster throwing the ball completing just 11 of 34 passes fro 145 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Obviously, that has to quickly change.
Outlook: It'll be a work in progress. The offensive changes are just enough to make the passing game a bit inconsistent to start and for things to be a bit sloppy, but once the coaching staff decides to go with Mortensen or Weber, it has to stick with him.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: While Amir Pinnix might not be flashy like Laurence Maroney, and he might not have the power of a Marion Barber, he became an ultra-productive back rushing for 100 yards in the final three games of the year on the way to a nice 1,272-yard, ten touchdown season. The senior is more than quick enough to pick his way through the holes that'll be there in the spread offense, and he should be a lock for 1,000 yards again if he can stay healthy. While he's not used much as a receiver, he can catch a little bit with 16 grabs for 138 yards.

Senior Justin Valentine is a strong veteran with 36 career appearances rushing for 183 yards and ten scores. The 6-1, 230-pounder is an excellent blocker who does all the dirty work, but he might not be used nearly as much in the new attack.

Projected Top Reserves: Pinnix is quick, but sophomore Jay Thomas is fast. The 6-0, 195-pound star high school sprinter has decent pop and a little bit of experience coming into his own over the final four games. He ripped off 79 yards and two touchdowns on six carries against Indiana, and picked up the workload against Iowa running 15 times for 79 yards and a score. With his speed, he appears to be a natural for the new offense.

Sophomore E.J. Jones is a small, quick back who got a little bit of work, including a start against Kent State, but he got hurt and only finished the season with 30 yards. He'll be an interesting option in the running mix if he's out of hot water after being arrested for allegedly being involved in the raping of an 18-year-old woman. He was released in early April, but the investigation is still ongoing.

Watch Out For ... the running game to be as effective as always, just in a different way. Minnesota is already set up to run the spread offense the way the coaching staff wants, and with the quick corps of backs, the ground attack should remain effective.
Strength: Pinnix and Thomas. This isn't Barber and Maroney, but it'll be a strong twosome that'll alternate and combine to crank out big numbers. Throw in Valentine in short yardage situations and the Gophers have a good group to work with.
Depth. Thomas is a good number two, but if there are any problems with Jones, there's not a deep stable of backs to rely on. Pinnix can't get hurt.
Outlook: This might not be the sexiest backfield around, but it'll produce. Pinnix is a reliable back the offense can give the ball to 20+ times a game, while Thomas is a burgeoning star. The entire group needs to be more involved in the passing game, but as long as they're taking advantage of the holes provided by the spread, hitting the 2,000-yard mark shouldn't be a problem.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters
Senior Ernie Wheelwright lost his status as the team's number one receiver with the emergence of Logan Payne, but now he's the man again with 93 career catches for 1,659 yards and 17 touchdowns in 37 career games. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, he's a big target with good enough deep speed to average 17.8 yards per catch. Now he has to go from streaky to steady; he only had three games with more than 40 receiving yards last season.

Taking over for Payne will be 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Eric Decker, who played like a number one receiver in spring ball. While he's not going to stretch the field too often like Wheelwright, he has the hands and the route running ability to quickly grow into a go-to guy.

On the other side will be 6-2, 210-pound junior Marc Cheatham, a key JUCO transfer who averaged 18.1 yards per catch for Laney College in California. He has the potential to quickly be a steady contributor.

While Cheatham might be the number two receiver, watch out for junior Jack Simmons to challenge for the team lead in receptions. Minnesota is a tight end factory, and considering Tim Brewster's history coaching tight ends, Simmons should shine after catching 17 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown playing behind Matt Spaeth. While he's not going to be the blocker Spaeth was, he should grow into a heck of a receiver; he caught 108 passes in high school.

Projected Top Reserves: Playing behind Wheelwright will be 6-2, 195-pound junior Michael Kasten, a walk-on who has yet to see the ball come his way, but has the deep speed to eventually be used as a field stretcher. He was a Minnesota high school state champion sprinter.

Pushing for time behind Cheatham will be sophomore Michael McKelton, a former cornerback who has the quickness to be a good underneath receiver. W

orking with Simmons at tight end will be 6-6, 250-pound sophomore Troy Reilly, who'll be used more as a blocker. He caught two passes for 29 yards and started to see more and more time as the year went on.

Watch Out For ... plenty of deep plays. There might not be a sure-thing, seven-catch a game target to count on right away, but Wheelwright, Cheatham and Kasten can move. The receivers have to take advantage of the mismatches in the spread offense.
Strength: Size. This is a tall group that can all block a little bit and has been groomed to be physical for the Gopher running game. They should be able to create a few matchup problems.
Experience. Outside of Wheelwright and Decker, there's not a sure-thing D-I wide receiver in the bunch. There's no experience, which isn't a plus considering the offense is breaking in a new quarterback.
Outlook: The corps will be decent if Cheatham is a player. Decker and Wheelwright form a serviceable 1-2 punch, while Simmons could catch 50 balls if he's able to take advantage of mismatches. The concern will for the first half of the year will be the stickiness of the offense. Will they guys get it? The other worry will be health with no depth to rely on.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
The left side will be the only question coming into the year with Steve Shidell moving over to right tackle and guard Tyson Swaggert needing to be replaced. 6-5, 275-pound sophomore Ryan Ruckdashel will step in for Swaggert as a relatively light blocker who's quicker than he is powerful. He's still filling out his frame adding 20 pounds over the last year. Next to him will be redshirt freshman Dominic Alford, a promising 6-3, 305-pound prospect who's expected to grow into one of the rocks of the line for the next four years. He has the size and the mobility to be terrific for what the Gophers will want to do on the ground.

Shidell was one of the rocks on the line before missing the Insight Bowl. He's a smart player who rarely gets beat in pass protection with good feet and nice quickness. At right guard will once against be sophomore Nedward Tavale, a 6-5, 305-pound run blocker who quickly became a major factor last season starting all 13 games as a freshman. One of the team's most talented linemen, he has all-star potential with a little more work.

In the middle as the anchor of the line is 6-3, 295-pound senior center Tony Brinkhaus, who made the move over from guard last year to replace all-everything star Greg Eslinger. He started of his career at tackle before moving inside, and he's been good wherever he's been. He's strong enough to be the team's most consistent run blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-5, 275-pound Matt DeGeest will serve as the understudy behind Shidell on the right side, but he could step in if Shidell moves back to the left at some point. He's a good veteran with a little bit of starting experience and enough talent to step in and keep the line rolling. The rest of the backups are small and quick, just how the coaching staff wants them.

Sophomore left guard Jeff Tow-Arnett is only 275 pounds, sophomore left tackle Jason Meinke, a walk-on, is only 255, and backup center, redshirt freshman D.J. Burris, is 280. Burris is a star in waiting just needing a little bit of time. He'll be the man in the middle next year when Brinkhaus graduates. Tow-Arnett can play center or guard.

Watch Out For ... Alford. He has All-Big Ten potential on the left side and should be great as the season goes on. Brinkhaus should start to receive a few honors now that he knows what he's doing in the middle.
Strength: Quickness. Tim Brewster wants to keep the current Minnesota trend of going with light, quick linemen who can move in a hurry. There's a reason the Denver Broncos like Gopher linemen.
Depth. It's never a plus when you have to count on walk-ons to fill key backup roles. Only DeGeest has any appreciable experience, so if there are injuries early to the starting five, the machine will break down.
Outlook: The line wasn't the killer of past seasons, but it was strong enough to lead the Big Ten in sacks allowed and should be good again. While there aren't any sure-thing road graders of past seasons, this isn't going to be a weakness of any sort if everyone stays healthy.
Rating: 7.5


Related Stories
2007 Minnesota Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007
2007 Minnesota Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2007
2007 Minnesota Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 16, 2007

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