Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Minnesota Preview |
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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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.