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2009 Minnesota Preview - Offense
Minnesota WR Eric Decker
Minnesota WR Eric Decker
Posted Jul 22, 2009 2009 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Offense

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Minnesota Preview | 2009 Minnesota Offense
- 2009 Minnesota Defense | 2009 Minnesota Depth Chart
- 2008 UM Preview | 2007 UM Preview | 2006 UM Preview 

What you need to know:
Gone is the spread and in comes the power. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch wants to line up and bang the ball with the hopes of improving the Big Ten’s worst rushing attack, and he has the line to do it. With the addition of Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel at guard and 375-pound JUCO transfer Jeff Wills at tackle, the line got a whole lot beefier and a whole lot better overnight. There’s a quick group of young backs, led by DeLeon Eskridge, who should finally be able to show what they can do with a hole to run through. While the running game will get the early focus, the offense will work around the combination of QB Adam Weber and WR Eric Decker. Decker is an All-America candidate who leads a very promising, and very big receiving corps, while Weber, as good as he has been carrying the team over the last two years, might have to share the quarterback spotlight with MarQueis Gray, a superstar-in-waiting.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Adam Weber
255-410, 2,761 yds, 15 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: DeLeon Eskridge
184 carries, 678 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Eric Decker
84 catches, 1,074 yds, 7 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Eric Decker
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior OT Matt Stommes
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Jeff Wills
Best pro prospect: Decker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Decker, 2) QB Adam Weber, 3) OG Matt Carufel
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, Eric Decker
Weakness of the offense: Proven No. 2 Receiver, Proven Running Game


Projected Starter: After carrying the Gopher offense two years ago, doing a little of everything with a team-leading 617 rushing yards to go along with his 2,895 yards through the air, Adam Weber took a minor step back running less, netting just 233 yards and four scores, and throwing for 2,761 yards and 15 scores. He struggled as the season wore on thanks to better competition, no running game, and late in the year, the injury to WR Eric Decker. After throwing just two interceptions in the first seven games, he threw six in a five-game span including the season-defining pick six, that wasn’t his fault, to lose to Northwestern. Even though 2008 wasn’t the banner year he had hoped for, the 6-3, 217-pound junior was good enough to start to show some pro potential, and now the new offense should only help showcase his talents that much more. He doesn’t have a huge arm, but it’s good enough, he’s tremendously mobile, and very tough. Now he’ll have to come back from offseason shoulder surgery, and will have to step up his game to hold off the charge from O.J. Gray, to be the team leader for the next two years.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman MarQueis "O.J." Gray is going to make the offense very, very interesting. The superstar recruit of last year, considered by most services as the top spread prospect in the country, he was going to play a role right away but missed last year due to academic issues. He hasn’t played in two years, missing most of his senior year of high school with a broken arm, but his injury was Minnesota’s gain as several schools soured on the Elite 11 Quarterback camper. Sensational in spring ball, he looked like he’s ready to start right now with tremendous speed and a huge arm to go along with his 6-4, 215-pound size.

Watch Out For ... Gray to see a lot of time. This might be Weber’s team, but Gray is the better player; he just doesn’t have the same experience. With a bigger arm, more athleticism, and much-bigger upside, Gray is too good to not see a little work.
Strength: Talent. Weber is becoming a decent pro prospect with his size and skills, while Gray is even more talented. Minnesota hasn’t had this much quarterback talent in well over a decade.
A potential controversy. What will happen if Weber struggles? What if Gray doesn’t get much playing time early on? It doesn’t seem like the situation is anywhere near an issue yet, but these two are too good to not want the job if there isn’t a rotation.
Outlook: Adam Weber should be able to handle the change in offensive philosophy quicker than MarQueis Gray, but each will see action and each will be able to run the ball when needed. This is a terrific situation with each player good enough to not just start, but to shine. These two are tremendously talented and could blow up if they finally get a little more help around them.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The Minnesota running game struggled, but now-sophomore DeLeon Eskridge did what he could in his true freshman season. He led the team with 678 yards and seven touchdowns, but he had a hard time finding room to move averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 114 yards and three scores came against Montana State, but he ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois before being bottled up for most of the rest of the year. Extremely quick with good hands, the 5-11, 189-pounder caught 29 passes for 181 yards, but now he has to be able to break off more big plays once he gets in the clear.

The Gophers plan on using the fullbacks more meaning there’s a place for Jon Hoese. The 6-2, 230-pound junior is a former safety who switched over to the offensive side early last year. However, in the spread offense he wasn’t needed much and spent most of his time on special teams. Smart, he’s an academic All-Big Ten performer, he doesn’t miss any assignment and is a decent blocker. He’ll get the ball more after running four times for five yards.
Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere in the mix, trying to get his job back, will be sophomore Duane Bennett, the main man going into last year before suffering a knee injury. On the plus side, the injury happened so early last year that he was able to redshirt and it gave him almost a year to heal up. He ran for 442 yards and three scores in a nice freshman year and ran for 140 yards and two scores last year before getting hurt. The 5-9, 204-pound scooter of a back can also catch with 30 career grabs for 270 yards and two touchdowns, including 12 in the first two games of last year alone. He’s a quick, tough runner who can produce inside or out.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley was supposed to be a part of the running mix right away last year, but he was shot in the leg coming out of a nightclub and ended up taking the year off. The 5-9, 179-pounder is back and healthy with next-level quickness and a great high school résumé rushing for 6,301 yards and 85 touchdowns in Virginia.

5-10, 202-pound sophomore Shady Salamon had a few decent moment running 49 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns, while catching nine passes for 91 yards and a score, providing a little more speed to the backfield. The 5-10, 202-pounder missed time this offseason getting over a concussion, but he’s expected to play a key backup role again by the time the season starts.  

Watch Out For ... a fullback. Not needed in the spread offense, at least not as much, now the offense will use more of a traditional set and more power running. All of a sudden, Jon Hoese becomes a key part of the offense.
Strength: Quick backs. Brewster is a master at getting production out of smallish, quick backs who can make one cut and go. There wasn’t much in the way of big plays out of last year’s group, partly because of the line, but the backs should be far better with more of an emphasis on the ground game.
Production against anyone with a pulse. That goes for most areas on the team, but the lack of a running game really stood out last year once the better part of the schedule kicked in. After Eskridge, who got most of his yards in two games, the No. 2 back was Salamon and he only pieced together 181 yards.
Outlook: The line hasn’t given much in the way of help for the backs to show what they can do. There might not be an all-star in the backfield, but there are four good runners with DeLeon Eskridge the best of the lot. Thick, quick backs are the norm with the ability to run inside and catch. Now the team needs more production and more big plays when the opportunities are there.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
Senior Eric Decker has grown into a special, NFL-caliber receiver following up a team-leading 67-catch season by making 84 grabs for 1,074 yards and seven scores. He was one of the nation’s hottest receivers throughout the first half of the season with ten catches against Northern Illinois and 13 against Indiana, but everything turned on one ill-fated play. Late against Northwestern, with the score tied, Decker missed a catch, it bounced into the defender’s hands, and the Gophers lost on a pick six. Decker was never the same with an ankle injury keeping him to just three grabs over the final three regular season games. At a rock-solid 6-2 and 215 pounds with good speed and great hands, he’s the Big Ten’s premier target and he should be on everyone’s All-America short list. The big question over the next year will be whether or not he wants to be a football player or go off to play baseball; he’s a star left fielder who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.

6-0, 179-pound Brandon Green was counted on to come through as a true freshman, and he did with 21 catches for 306 yards and a touchdown highlighted by a breakout five-catch, 100-yard day against Purdue. The team’s most athletic receiver, he could be used as a return man if needed and could get a few cracks as a runner. He’s a playmaker who should be able to grow into a big producer in three-wide sets and as Eric Decker’s backup.  

Senior Nick Tow-Arnett is a willing blocker, but the former walk-on is mostly a receiver with a surprising ten catches for 211 yards and a touchdown highlighted by a 40-yard play against Indiana. He’s athletic and can be used as a field stretcher, and now he should make a bigger impact for the offense and be a key special teamer as well.

Projected Top Reserves: Da’Jon McKnight had a great off-season and showed he’s ready to get the ball on a regular basis. Still learning on the fly, after spending most of his high school career on the defensive side, the 6-3, 200-pound sophomore made three catches for 38 yards with a 22-yard score against Ohio State. His other two catches came against Kansas in the Insight Bowl. Very raw but with all the skills, he has the size and the potential to become a breakout player.

Is Hayo Carpenter the real deal? Considered to be the nation's No. 1 JUCO wideout, the 5-11, 185-pounder has sub-4.4 wheels and the ability to stretch the field as a devastating deep threat. Also able to return kicks and punts, and used potentially as a runner out of the backfield, the coaching staff will come up with several ways to get him the ball.

Originally a quarterback, former JUCO transfer David Pittman came to Minnesota to challenge for a job and was considered one of the team’s top recruits. A tremendous spread quarterback prospect, he’s not going to get any action under center with Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray already in place, he’s phenomenally quick and has the potential to be a good slot receiver. A senior, he has to produce now in his last chance to make something happen after showing so much promise as a JUCO All-American after throwing for 6,346 yards and 61 touchdowns at Pasadena City College.

6-4, 245-pound sophomore Curtis Hughes has the size and the hands to be a receiving tight end, but he’ll only be used as a blocker. A special teamer and a strong blaster in two tight end sets, the walk-on should start to see a few passes come his way.

Watch Out For ... McKnight. Still emerging as a polished wide receiver, he needs a bit more work and is still just scratching the surface on what he can become. After a terrific spring, he might be too good to keep off the field.
Strength: Size. This is a tall, tough corps that should be able to beat up secondaries and won’t have problems with blocking down the field. All the top players are around 6-2ish and 200 pounds.
A proven No. 2 receiver. Decker caught 84 passes for 1,074 yards and seven scores, but the second most productive wide receiver, Brandon Green, caught 20 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. There are plenty of good prospects, but the receiving corps went into the tank once Decker went down and has to prove it can produce on a consistent basis.
Outlook: This could be a major bright spot as the season goes on. Having an All-American like Eric Decker certainly helps to anchor the corps, but it’s the emergence of big, young prospects like Da’Jon McKnight and Hayo Carpenter that could make the passing game shine. If a second target emerges as a major playmaker on the other side of Decker, there should be a good overall leap in passing game production.
Rating: 7

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
Why will the offensive line be better? The right side should be much improved with the addition of Matt Carufel, a 6-5, 303-pound junior who started out his career at Notre Dame, didn’t play, transferred, and now appears to be fully matured and ready to become a major factor at right tackle. Extremely strong with good feet to go along with his size, he should be a rock for the running game.

Also emerging as a key new starter will be Jeff Wills, a massive, massive 6-7, 375-pound road grater who blots out the sun. The JUCO transfer out of New York isn’t going to do much in pass protection, but he’ll flatten everyone on the right side in the running game. While he’s too heavy, he has the frame to support it, to a point, and will be a great upgrade at right tackle.

With Willis stepping up at right tackle, sophomore Ryan Wynn will move inside after starting every game. After starting every game in the regular season at right tackle, he moved to right guard in the bowl game. A great prospect who’s still improving, he’ll be a natural at center where he’ll be able to use his 6-5, 291-pound size and decent athleticism to pound away.

Senior Matt Stommes is a smart, tough player who spent last year trying to figure out what he was doing after moving over from the defensive line. He saw a little bit of action, but now he’s ready to be a steady starter at left tackle with 6-7, 296-pound size and long arms to keep pass rushers at bay. Can he handle speed rushers? That could be one of the big keys to the team’s offensive success.

Able to play either guard or tackle, 6-3, 332-pound junior Dominic Alford spend most of his time at left guard. At 6-3 and 332 pounds, he has good athleticism for his size and started out at left tackle with average results. If needed, he could be used at either left or right tackle again, where he was too inconsistent, but he should be at home on the inside where he can use his bulk to plow over blockers.  

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing hard for the starting left guard job is D.J. Burris, one of the team’s strongest players and one of the most versatile with the ability to play either guard spot or at center. He’s been a key part-time starter over the last two years and saw time over the second half of the season starting three straight games at right guard. He had a hard time staying healthy as a freshman, but he showed big-time promise. Now he might get his chance.

At 6-2 and 320 pounds, senior Ned Tavale is a huge blocker who started most of 2007 at left guard and split time as a starter at right guard. While he’s not quite the athlete who fit the spread offense, he should see more time and be better now that there’s more of an emphasis on pounding away.

One of the most experienced backups is 6-5, 278-pound junior Ryan Ruckdashel, a career spot starter and key reserve who can play either guard spot and is a key special teamer. While he’s not a pounder, he’s decent on the move and can slide to left tackle without a problem, he’ll work behind Matt Stommes as a pas protector.

6-2, 276-pound sophomore Trey Davis can play guard if needed but is a pure center. While he’s not huge, he’s physical and has tremendous upside. A great recruit for the program, he had several offers to go to other schools but has yet to shine through as anything more than a spot starter. He starters the final three games of the year, and two games early on, but he didn’t beat anyone up.  

Watch Out For ... the right side. With the addition of Wills and Carufel, the line got an immediate infusion of talent to upgrade 2/5th of the line. They’re big, they’re powerful, and they’re ready to be major factors.
Strength: Experience. For good and bad, the line went through a lot of shifting last season to try to find a combination that worked. Now there’s veteran depth, battles for a few spots, and a good combination of talent and experience.
Consistency. There wasn’t much of it over the last few years for the running game, while the pass protection became a problem after leading the Big Ten in sacks allowed in 2006 and 2007. There was rarely the same starting combination two games in a row.
Outlook: After struggling to find anything that worked and doing nothing for the running game, the line should be far better thanks to the addition of Jeff Wills and Matt Carufel on the right side. With those two taking over, the line goes from shaky and a concern to deep and talented with several players ready to emerge as steady blockers. With the spread gone, this big group will get to line up and pound away on someone … and they’ll love it.
Rating: 6.5