The coach said he sees improvement in every facet of his talented football team ahead of Thursday's opener.
Updated: August 23, 2012 - 11:39 AM
The Gophers football team opens the season on Aug. 30 against Nevada-Las Vegas, and the Gophers are a nine-point favorite against the Rebels, who will start a freshman quarterback and finished last season with a 56-9 loss to TCU.
With the season opener approaching, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said he feels good about his football team, believing it will be young but athletic.
"We have 10 seniors. I stood up last night at the pregame meal before we went over and I said how many seniors get up to eat and there's nine or 10 of them," Kill said. "Then we go juniors and there's about 13-14 and then the rest of them are all young.
"We're a very young football team. I do believe we have some talent, we have some kids that can run well, but there are a lot of them that are freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores and redshirt juniors.
"We're a young team -- and that's a good thing when you're building a program. We're excited about the direction we're going."
Kill said he believes one of the things that might overcome the youth is the outstanding group of junior college players he brought in this spring. Kill has had a good chance to size up the junior college players in spring practice and during two-a-day camp.
"Roland Johnson, the defensive tackle, has done a great job, had a great camp, did a great job in summer school. I'm pleased with where he's at," Kill said. "Martez Shabazz, I think, is going to be a great corner, a great player. Briean Boddy, who has three years left, is a very, very good athlete. I feel great about him. Jeremy Baltazar, I feel good about him. Those three kids in the secondary will help our depth and have done a great job in the classroom."
Then you have the case of receiver Isaac Fruechte, who sat out last year at Rochester Community and Technical College so he would have three years of eligibility.
"Fruechte has really come on here during two-a-day camp, and he has three years left," Kill said. "I think he's got a great opportunity to help us. [Running back] James Gillum certainly is a mature young man. The thing I'm proud of more than anything is that they've all done well in the classroom."
Another reason for optimism is that two of the best players on last year's team, Troy Stoudermire, a standout kick returner, and cornerback and receiver Marcus Jones are healthy after missing most of last season.
"There's no question about that. Troy gives you experience and a great return guy," Kill said. "Marcus Jones, I would tell you, as good a player he was as a true freshman, he's a better player this year. He's come off knee surgery, it's an unbelievable story of what he's come off and how quick he's been able to recover. Shoot, I think he's even quicker and stronger than he was a year ago. He's improved his ball skills and had a great camp. He's done well and we're very pleased with him. He's a mature young man and one you want to get into the foxhole with."
Then you have MarQueis Gray, one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
"MarQueis, as far as quarterback-wise, he's had a great camp," Kill said. "He's matured as a quarterback, and I'm looking forward to watching him play. He has to be there on Thursdays and Saturdays, but I think he's prepared well. These next seven days are important for him."
But Kill knows that there is a big difference between practice and the season opener.
"I think we've improved ourselves in every area you can think of, but that doesn't guarantee you any wins," he said. "I think we're stronger, we have more speed, I think we're more mature, even though we're young. I think they've worked their tail ends off, but again, that doesn't guarantee you anything. As far as we've come, we have a lot of things to clean up."
No Peterson surprise
It shouldn't be any surprise that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is being held out of preseason games and likely won't play until the second regular-season game at Indianapolis.
I'm convinced that has been the Vikings' plan all along. One big reason coach Leslie Frazier and company are being careful is they believe that Toby Gerhart could start for many teams in the league and will do a good job as Peterson's replacement. Secondly, they have a number of good running backs and want to make sure they don't cut any of the good ones.
You can't blame the loss of Michael Cuddyer, now with Colorado, and Jason Kubel, now with Arizona, for the poor record of the Twins. If you check comparable statistics of Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, who were signed to replace Cuddyer and Kubel, they are hitting a combined .275 compared with .268 for Cuddyer and Kubel. Cuddyer (who might miss the rest of the season with an injury) is hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 58 RBI, and Kubel is hitting .273 with 26 home runs and 79 RBI. Willingham is hitting .260 with 31 home runs and 91 RBI, and Doumit is hitting .290 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI.
Another reason it's hard to understand why the Twins are more than 50 games under .500, counting the past two seasons, is that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, who were hurt all last year, have been playing well.
• Longtime Hazeltine National member Patrick Hunt has been named general chairman of the 2016 Ryder Cup, which will be at Hazeltine for the first time four years from now. Hunt will lead a delegation to Medinah Golf Course in Illinois to observe the 2012 Cup on Sept. 28-30. Hazeltine will mark its 50th anniversary on Sept. 8, with the celebration featuring a private concert by Kenny Loggins.
• Dick Ames, who has been a big contributor to Gophers sports, wanted to give $900,000 to pay for the excavation work at the new U baseball stadium -- work his Ames Construction would have done, then would have paid the cost back to the U. But the administration wouldn't allow him to do that, since another company submitted a lower bid for the work. But Ames is still willing to make the contribution, and he met with new Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague to work on a plan to allow it.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • email@example.com
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