Looking ahead to the 2014 season, tight end is one of Minnesota’s strongest positions on the offensive side of the ball.
Maxx Williams is returning after a breakout freshman season, and senior Drew Goodger is a workhorse blocker capable of catching passes in the open field.
But Duke Anyanwu, who could have played a big role at tight end along with Williams and Goodger, is out for the season with a right knee injury, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill told reporters Monday.
“It’s too bad, because he would have definitely played for us,” Kill said of Anyanwu. “Duke’s loved by our team and our coaches. … [He’s a] great kid, and he’ll fight back through it.”
Even with Anyanwu sidelined, Minnesota has a lot of options for filling the third tight end spot. However, none of the replacements have had significant game experience.
Nate Wozniak, a 6-foot-10-inch redshirt freshman, could turn into a serious red zone threat, catching lob passes over defensive backs nearly a full foot shorter than him.
And true freshman Gaelin Elmore has grown since coming to campus.
“Shoot, I think he’s 265 [pounds],” Kill said of Elmore. “He wasn’t that big when we recruited him. I mean, they just keep growing.”
There are other freshman tight ends on the team — Brandon Lingen and Jerry Gibson.
Practice gets heated
In the trenches Monday, tension roiled and players got physical.
Offensive lineman Tommy Olson and defensive lineman Demaris Peppers went after each other. Later on, Olson continued to wrestle linebacker Damien Wilson after a play ended.
Kill made the team do up-downs as punishment.
“I think the intensity’s good. I think you have to be able to play under control,” Kill said. “Intensity, that’s not an issue.”
Versatile running backs
Minnesota’s running backs continue to impress. Senior David Cobb, who rushed for 1,202 yards last season, came into fall camp fitter than ever.
“He’s come in with really good shape and a really good attitude,” Kill said of Cobb.
Cobb is almost a sure bet to be Minnesota’s starting running back, while multiple players say redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards should use his game-changing speed to stretch the field.
In spring ball, Edwards took runs up the middle and to the outside. But on Monday, he caught passes in the flat and even lined up out wide as a receiver.
“Any time you can move personnel around and do different things and have them be able to learn different positions, it allows more flexibility in what you do from week to week,” Kill said.
Kill also described junior running back Rodrick Williams as “motivated and an angry man.” Williams complements Edwards and Cobb’s skill sets as a power running back.
Add up those three players, along with Donnell Kirkwood and others, and the Gophers are a threatening force in the backfield.
“We’re going [to] run the ball regardless of who we play,” Cobb said at Big Ten Football Media Days.
Last season, as junior college transfers, Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell saw significant playing time.
Wilson was second on the team in tackles with 78. Campbell, who the coaching staff has lauded as a player with sky-high potential, participated in all 13 games.
“It always takes a [junior college] kid a little bit to get used to things and really settle in,” Kill said. “You can tell the understanding of [Wilson and Campbell] is much better.”
The player who will join the Gophers as the third starting linebacker remains to be seen, but redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn played alongside Wilson and Campbell for an extended time during drills Monday. Athletic and lanky at 6 feet 3 inches, Lynn could learn to excel in coverage situations.
But Redshirt sophomore Nick Rallis could challenge Lynn for the starting spot.
“Jack’s size is what really gives him [an] advantage. He’s really long, he’s really tall and he’s strong, too,” senior defensive back Cedric Thompson said at Big Ten Media Days. “Nick [Rallis] brings speed, and Nick brings consistency.”
Minnesota players are honoring Bob McNamara, a former All-America football player for the Gophers and major financial supporter of the University, this season by wearing stickers on their helmets.
McNamara died at 82 last month.
“Bob was somebody I got to meet when I first got here,” Kill said. “It’s a tremendous loss.”