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
Passing: Tony Mortensen
2-10, 15 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Amir Pinnix
252 carries, 1,272 yds, 10 TD
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
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
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, offensive line
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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
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
Weakness: 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.
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
Weakness: 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.