The Gophers’ defense just needed to slow down a little bit before it could speed things up in spring ball.
With about two-thirds of the new playbook installed, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he stopped adding new schemes because he wanted to see how good the players were without having to think all the time.
“We’re not giving up a bunch of big plays, and we’re playing with a lot more energy,” he said after Tuesday’s practice when the defense significantly out-performed the offense. “The kids seem like they’re having fun now as opposed to before when they were learning a bunch of stuff.”
The defense had successful goal-line stands on three of the offense’s four tries Tuesday.
During the rest of practice, defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman deflected two passes at the line and had a tackle for a loss. Defensive backs Kim Royston and Shady Salamon and linebacker Gary Tinsley all had interceptions, and Brock Vereen recovered a fumble.
“We’re coming to practice with the mentality that we’re going to do our doggone thing,” senior defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey said.
Cornerback Troy Stoudermire might not have made the best play of the day, but it was certainly the loudest. He knew receiver Cameron Wilson, a new addition to the brown jersey club, was running an out route, so as soon as quarterback Tom Parish threw the ball …
“I knew it was a big hit coming. Either that or an interception,” said Stoudermire, who didn’t even see Wilson drop the ball after the vicious hit.
The defensive line has improved most to this point in spring ball, Claeys said, but he’s glad to see defensive backs making strides. After signing day, some people believed incoming freshmen could come in and play immediately for a maligned secondary.
“Some of those younger kids are going to have to work a little bit,” Claeys said. “Those freshmen, they’re going to have to compete to get a job as long as the ones here do what they’re supposed to in the summer.”
Although the defense played well Tuesday, both sides had to run lines after making mistakes in practice. The offense just had to run a bit more.
Instead of typical sprints, though, Kill had the players hit the deck with their chests at every whistle.
“That’s the only way I know how to fix things,” Kill said. “I’ve been doing that for 28 years and people have always commented, ‘Boy coach, your teams played disciplined, hard-nosed football and they don’t make a lot of mistakes.’”
The offense ran nine times at the end of practice because some players weren’t dropping all the way to their chests. The defense only did the sprints four times, and eventually Royston started the defense chanting, “Let’s go O.”
“It’s tough because at the end of the day we’re all teammates,” Kirksey said. “I’m glad it happened because if we can’t do things right then it needs to be corrected before we play a game.”
McKnight, Lair to miss spring game
Two of the Gophers’ top pass catchers will miss Saturday’s spring game at TCF Bank Stadium due to injuries, most notably wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight, who hurt his left knee last week.
“We’re just going to be real careful with him and not take a chance,” Kill said. “We know what he can do, and we need to find out what other people can do.”
Tight end Eric Lair (concussion) will also be held out for precautionary measures. The Gophers have a plethora of players sidelined for spring practice, but Kill said none of the injuries are too serious.
“Every one of them is going to be fine for the season,” he said. “There’s no critical injuries or anything like that. There are just things that are knick-knacks that we’re not going to take a chance on.”