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2008 Minnesota Preview - Offense
Minnesota WR Eric Decker
Minnesota WR Eric Decker
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Offense

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 2008 - Offense


- 2008 CFN Minnesota Preview | 2008 Minnesota Offense
- 2008 Minnesota Defense | 2008 Minnesota Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Minnesota Preview | 2006 CFN Minnesota Preview 

What you need to know:
Considering it was a year of transition, the offense didn't do too poorly. It didn't get any help from the defense, and there were too many turnovers, but the spread worked. Adam Weber all but shut down any quarterback controversy with a strong spring, but he'll need help. The line will be decent, as it always is at Minnesota, but it'll need time to jell. Eric Decker is an All-Big Ten caliber receiver, and Jack Simmons, if he can stay healthy, has tremendous potential at tight end, but the No. 2 receiver is a huge question mark with a few true freshmen needing to produce. RBs Duane Bennett and Jay Thomas are extremely quick, but Thomas is coming off a torn ACL.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Adam Weber
258-449, 2,895 yds, 24 TD, 19 INT
Rushing: Adam Weber
146 carries, 617 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Eric Decker

67 catches, 909 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Adam Weber
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior OT Jason Meinke
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman WR Brandon Green
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OT Dominic Alford
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Weber, 2) WR Eric Decker, 3) Alford
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, quick running backs
Weakness of the offense: Proven No. 2 receiver, offensive line certainty

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: All 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Adam Weber did was carry the Gopher offense as one of the nation's best all-around quarterbacks. Not only did he complete 58% of his passes for 2,895 yards with 24 touchdowns, but he led the team in rushing with 617 yards and five touchdowns. Even so, because he had a consistent problem with interceptions, throwing 19 of them going just one game without throwing one, and because the coaching staff is looking for dynamic playmakers, the quarterback job was considered open going into the off-season. Weber might have slammed it shut after becoming more of a leader, a more fundamentally sound passer, and after bulking up to be able to handle more of the workload. He's a big, strong spread quarterback who should only be better now that he's considered the main man for the attack.

Projected Top Reserves: Weber might be the leader of the offense and a great spread quarterback, but true freshman MarQueis "O.J." Gray is the star-in-waiting. Considered by every recruiting service to be among the top spread prospects in this year's recruiting class, the 6-4, 215-pounder has speed, an accurate passing arm, and toughness. While a few schools soured on the Elite 11 Quarterback camper after he suffered a broken arm and missed most of his senior year, he was still a tremendous coup for the Gopher coaching staff.

While Gray is considered the team's quarterback of the future, JUCO transfer David Pittman came to Minnesota to challenge for a job right now. arguably the team's most biggest recruit this year, he's only 5-11 and 185 pounds, but he's a phenomenal passer, throwing for 6,346 yards and 61 touchdowns at Pasadena City College, and is a good runner with a team-leading 572 yards and six touchdowns last season. A great athlete, there's a chance he could move to another position just to get him on the field somewhere.

Watch Out For ... Weber to be even better. It's not like he was bad last year, he was third in the Big Ten in total offense, but he didn't quite make the team his. Now he's expected to be more vocal, more of a leader, and most importantly, more productive. After a year of taking his lumps, he should be more efficient.
Strength: Big-time spread quarterbacks. Tim Brewster is known as a recruiter, and he has three fantastic quarterback options sold on the idea of being the main man for the Gopher attack. Any one of the three could be the starter on opening day and the offense would put up nice numbers.
Weakness
:
Weber's interceptions. Yeah, he was great this spring, but if he starts throwing picks early on, and if the team isn't winning, it could be a pressure-packed situation to get Gray or Pittman in there.
Outlook: In a perfect world, Weber solidifies himself as the starter for the next three years and continues to be a key runner, Pittman becomes happy with the No. 2 job and steps in if and when Weber gets nicked, and Gray is able to redshirt and then becomes a scary-good option to use now and then for a few years before he becomes the starter in 2011. In reality, Gray could play right away, but Weber might make it hard for anyone to have a shot at the starting gig.
Rating: 8


Running Backs

Projected Starters: The Gophers want to return to the days of the 1,000-yard running back, and it's hoping for sophomore Duane Bennett to be the man. The 5-9, 195-pounderfinished third on the team with 442 yards and three touchdowns, and caught 18 passes for 145 yards and a score, but he didn't take over and become the main option until the final four games of the year. While he was held in check late, he ran for 106 yards against Michigan. A quick, tough runner, he'll be used inside and out.

Projected Top Reserves: While Bennett will get the bulk of the work, junior Jay Thomas will see his share of time if he can prove he still has the type of next-level speed that made him such a dangerous prospect. While the 6-0, 195-pound star high school sprinter has speed, he also has two bad knees with ACL injuries to both of them. He ran for 215 yards and a touchdown last year and caught seven passes for 81 yards, but he still needs to heal up after getting hurt late in the year.

True freshman Kevin Whaley was expected to play a big role until Thomas is 100%, but that might have to wait as he has to get his leg healthy after being shot outside a nightclub in March. The 5-9, 180-pounder is the type of talent the program hasn't had for a few years, and while he might not be a Marion Barber or a Laurence Maroney, he has next-level quickness and a great high school résumé rushing for 6,301 yards and 85 touchdowns in Virginia.

Watch Out For ... The new guys. Whaley is the star back in the recruiting class, but Terrell Combs is a 250-pound load who gives the offense something different, if he doesn't move to linebacker right away, and Shady Salamon is a speedster who fits the attack.
Strength: Quick backs. Brewster knows how to use smallish, quick backs, and he has them. Bennett, Thomas and Whaley all fit a type of one-cut speed-back who can fire through a hole.
Weakness
:
Power. There isn't any. The Gophers don't use a true fullback anymore, and unless Combs plays on offense, there isn't a pure between-the-tackles pounder to rely on when a hard yard is needed. The offense might have to rely on Adam Weber for that.
Outlook: There's great potential for someone to quickly emerge as a major producer, but the line has to provide a bit more help than it did last year and there has to be more carries for the backs. The offense relies on the quarterback to crank out rushing yards, but there might be too much speed and quickness here to ignore.
Rating: 6.5


Receivers


Projected Starters
:
Junior Eric Decker led the team in receiving with 67 catches for 909 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 13.6 yards per catch, and while he was consistent, and he had a monster early game with 12 grabs for 165 yards and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic, the big performance came at the end when he gave Wisconsin fits with six catches for 125 yards and a score. While he's not necessarily a field stretcher, he can make the deep play and he catches everything. He even threw a 20-yard touchdown pass against North Dakota State and is a star on the baseball team. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he's solid.

Taking over Ernie Wheelwright's old job will be a key question mark. The most experienced option is Ralph Spry, a 5-11, 175-pound sophomore who finished third on the team with 23 catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns. He turned into a nice starter as his true freshman season went on, and now he has to shine as a No. 2 option.

With starter Tray Herndon off the team, it might be up to true freshman Brandon Green to find a role when he first gets to campus. The 6-0, 180-pound true freshman is the team's most athletic receiver with the all-around skills to be used as a runner, receiver, and as a kick returner. He won't have the luxury of easing into a job; the team needs him now after scoring 22 touchdowns his senior year, and throwing for four others.

Senior Jack Simmons is a great tight end talent with 6-4, 240-pound size, good hands, and great route running ability, but he has to get healthy after having problems with an injured foot. He caught 20 passes for 202 yards last year, but he didn't get into the end zone and he didn't grow into the go-to, bail-out weapon he was supposed to because of the foot.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 170-pound redshirt freshman Damien White is a quick, darting target who goes from being able to work his way into a role to becoming a key reserve. He's the type of player who could make big things happen with the ball in his hands on the move, but he'll have to establish himself early on with the true freshmen coming in.

The big question for true freshman Vince Hill will be where to put him. One of the team's fastest players, he could be a deep threat at an outside position, he could be used as a running back from time to time, and he could end up moving to defensive back if needed. He's a wide receiver, and he'll get a chance to see the field early on.

Considering the foot problems of Jack Simmons, 6-4, 230-pound sophomore Collin McGarry will have to be ready to step in at any time. He didn't make a catch last year, but he saw a little bit of time and was a nice recruit for the program last year. He's more of a receiver than a blocker.

Watch Out For ... the new guys. Decker is the established No. 1, but Green and Hill might be the highlight reel stars if they can use their speed to make plays right away.
Strength: Speed. The coaching staff seriously upgraded the overall athleticism and deep speed of the corps over the last few years, and while it'll take a while for everyone to get their feet wet, at the very least, the young guys can be told to get on the outside and go long.
Weakness
:
The No. 2. Decker will be the focus of every defensive gameplan for opposing secondaries. Wheelwright was a great sidekick catching 66 passes for 775 yards and nine touchdowns. Now the one to help Decker out will be ... ? It might take a few games to figure that out.
Outlook: On a team full of uncertainty and new blood pumping in at key spots, the receiving corps is the biggest X factor. Decker is on the verge of All-Big Ten stardom if he gets a little bit of help. One of the very fast, but very young new options has to come through right away and become reliable. That's asking a lot of a freshman or another player thrown to the wolves. Simmons has to get healthy and live up to his potential as a top receiving tight end.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
The biggest key for the line will be who'll replace Tony Brinkhaus at center. He made the move from guard to the middle, and now junior Jeff Tow-Arnett appears ready to do the same. The 6-2, 275-pounder stepped in at left guard for three starts over the second half of the year, and while the former walk-on wasn't dominant, he was fine. If he ends up in the middle, he'll have to prove he can hold up for a full season.

The other big opening is at left tackle where Steve Shidell is gone after starting every game. 6-3, 315-pound sophomore Dominic Alford will take over the spot after starting the last fie games of last year at right tackle. A big blocker who was surprisingly strong in pass protection early on in his career, he'll be a fixture up front for the next three years.

Needing to stay healthy for a full season is 6-2, 280-pound sophomore D. J. Burris, one of the team's strongest players and one of the most versatile able to play center or guard. He fought through injuries to start every game but one, and he quickly turned into one of the team's bright young blockers. He'll be an All-Big Ten performer before he's through.

6-5, 270-pound Jason Meinke needs to go from being a little used walk-on to a starter at right tackle. He saw get three games of work over his first two seasons, and while he's a decent athlete, the spotlight will be on as he'll be in a battle throughout the early part of the fall to keep the spot.

6-5, 300-pound Otis Hudson played the early part of last year on the defensive side making two tackles in four games, and while he'll have to fight for a starting job, he has looked like a natural at times at right guard. He's physical and can move well.

Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere will be 6-2, 320-pound junior Nedward Tavale, a starter for most of last season at left guard. While he doesn't quite fit the type of lineman the team uses, he's more of a pounder than a quick blocker who gets on the move, he's a big body to run behind
.

One of the most experienced backup is 6-5, 275-pound junior Ryan Rickdashel, the starter in the season opener, and a spot starter at both guard positions, he's a sound run blocker who can fill in without a problem. He'll start out on the left side behind Burris.

Pushing for time at right tackle will be 6-3, 305-pound redshirt freshman Chris Bunders, a guard prospect coming out of high school, and a good one, he'll be moved outside to use his bulk as a run blocker. He could eventually find a home as a No. 2 guard at either spot.

Battling Tow-Arnett for the center job is 6-2, 275-pound redshirt freshman Trey Davis, a great recruit for the program who had several offers to go to big places but chose to stay home. A physical blocker, he could be used at guard if needed.

Watch Out For ... a lot of shifting around. A lot. The line was fine last year, and it will be again, but it might take every practice to figure out the exact right combination.
Strength: Quickness. Tim Brewster wants to keep the current Minnesota trend of going with light, quick linemen who can move in a hurry. Even though he has some more bulk up front now, the big guys, like Alford, can move.
Weakness
:
Figuring it all out. The depth is coming around, but there are still some holes to make sure are filled among the starters. With Burris and Alford moving sides, and with the center job still up in the air, there's some work to do to come up with some continuity.
Outlook: Don't blame the line for last year's problems. Helped by a mobile quarterback in Adam Weber, Minnesota finished first in the Big Ten in sacks allowed for the second year in a row, and was good for the running game. While there's a whole bunch of uncertainty with Shidell and Brinkhaus needing to be replaced after being the only two players to start every game, the new options and prospects fit. The offense tends to make the linemen better than they are. Minnesota has been great at that over the last several years.
Rating: 7