Minnesota Football 2014 Spring Wrap Up
Strengths & Question Marks
I think the obvious strength of this team is the running game. The Gophers return 4/5 of their offensive line, with some talented underclassmen pushing last year’s starters for reps. They also return David Cobb who was a 1,200 yard rusher after having a breakout junior season. And they add a couple very talented backs to the crew in Berkley Edwards and Jeff Jones.
Edwards, the brother of NFL wide receiver Braylon, has elite speed and should be given opportunities to showcase said speed after redshirting last season. Jeff Jones was a 4-star back who stuck with this Gopher commitment after earning MVP honors at the Under Armour all-star game and seeing his recruiting explode. He is a special talent who may contribute immediately.
This teams biggest question mark is clearly the passing game. A consistent passing attack was never found last year. The quarterback situation was never resolved, young receivers had trouble getting open consistently and the result was the worst passing offense in the Big Ten.
This year there are still a number of questions. Most of the receiving corp returns and there is some promising, young talent. The expectation is that Mitch Leidner will be the unquestioned starter, but his accuracy needs to dramatically improve.
I think there will be a number of players who casual Big Ten fans have never heard of who will be key players for the Gophers this year. Maxx Williams is a name that Gopher fans would say had a break-out season last year, but the rest of the Big Ten might become more familiar with the Gopher TE this year. Drew Wolitarsky is a wide receiver who I think is going to emerge as our go-to target. He set a number of California high school receiving records, played as a true freshman and started to contribute more as the season finished up.
Defensively I think Eric Murray is going to be an outstanding corner, who will be in the conversation for All-Big Ten consideration in November. The coaching staff spoke of him as one of the conference’s best a year ago, I think his reputation will grow this year. And I’ll give you a couple linebackers. Damien Wilson, in the middle, is going to be a rock on this defense. And DeVondre Campbell is an athletic freak, if he figures a few things out he is going to be a dominant OLB in the Big Ten.
** We’ve done a detailed breakout player post for Off and Def if your readers would like to take a look.
QB – (C+) – Mitch Leidner is a tough kid who runs the ball like a moose. But his passing leaves a lot to be desired. He was essentially the back-up QB last year who got some starts when the starter, Philip Nelson, struggled. Nelson is gone and Leidner is pretty much the lone man standing to take the job. I like his toughness and I think he leads the team well, but you need a QB who can complete passes to keep our ground game free. That will be the key.
RB – (A) – The unquestioned identity of this offense is a power running game and this is the most talented set of running backs that the Gopher football program has seen in long time. David Cobb is coming off 1,202 yards and 7 TDs, he is a talented back with decent speed, power and vision. He won’t be winning the Heisman, but he is good. Roderick Williams Jr and Donnell Kirkwood also return and they have been productive backs for the Gophers at times as well. Then we add a blue-chip recruit who turned heads at the Under Armour All-America game in Jeff Jones. And Berkley Edwards finished up his red-shirt season to add a level of elite speed to this offense. There is a lot of talent and depth here, the ground game.
WR – (C-) – Just too young to really know. I really like a couple of the kids who played quite a bit as true freshmen last year. Drew Wolitarsky is a possession type receiver, a kid who knows how to get open. Donovahn Jones is incredibly athletic but raw. Both will be sophomores and if they can take their game up a level, then this receiving corp looks a lot better. Issac Fruechte is a senior who has been productive at times and should be on the field a lot as well. Eric Carter is also young and could be a surprise contributor as a redshirt freshman.
TE – (B+) – This unit is also deep and has guys who are contributors in the run game as well as the passing game. Maxx Williams headlines the group after a break-out freshman season where he lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Drew Goodger and Lincoln Plesek are going to be on the field a lot as well. But the new addition is the 6’10” Nate Wosniak. He should make for an interesting match-up for linebackers in the redzone.
OL (B+) – 4/5 return and as I said above there are some really talented underclassmen who are pushing the 2013 starters. This unit has been on the younger side over the past couple seasons but now they are older, stronger and have valuable experience. This unit is pretty deep and should be one of the better lines in the Big Ten.
DL (B-) – The loss of Ra’Shede Hageman is a pretty big blow to the defensive line. But there are a few kids who have had a lot of valuable playing time and there is opportunity for them to step up in meaningful ways this year. Theiran Cockran started asll 13 games last year at DE and had 7.5 sacks, he is the biggest name worth watching. Then a number of guys who have been solid and may be primed for more productive seasons are sprinkled throughout the line.
LB (B-) – Damien Wilson is a really nice Big Ten middle linebacker. He came in as a JUCO transfer and started immediately last year finishing 2nd on the team in tackles. At OLB you have De’Vondre Campbell who is a big, rangy, athletic linebacker with a lot of talent. He needs to be more disciplined but is talented enough to really be a play-maker.
DB (A) – I really like this defensive back crew in spite of the loss of the very versatile Brock Vereen who was just drafted in the 4th round. The Gopher pass defense was 5th in the Big Ten last year and I suspect it will be as good, maybe slightly better in 2014. Eric Murray a great cover-corner and he’ll be paired up with Briean Boddy-Calhoun who was probably our #1 CB before going down with a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the year. Derrick Wells is very experienced and versatile, he has started many games in his first three years and will be on the field a lot as a senior. Damarius Travis, Cedric Thompson and Steven Montgomery will rotate through the safety positions as they did a year ago.
ST (B) – Junior, Peter Mortell was 3rd in the Big Ten in punting average last year, he’s fine. Kicker is going to be new this year and is a big question mark. The return game has always been pretty solid under coach Kill and I see no reason to think it will not be solid again this year.
I think this team is going to be a better than they were a year ago, but that might not translate into more wins as the schedule is much more difficult this year. They are adding a trip to TCU to the non-conference schedule and their Big Ten opponents include @Michigan, @Nebraska, @Wisconsin and hosting Ohio State.
I see this team offensively being very similar to last year with hopefully improvements to the passing game. Defensively they lose a couple valuable starters but this unit should be much deeper and I think it will net about the same amount of yards allowed and points given up; both of which were middle to upper half of the Big Ten.
Tom of The Daily Gopher provided the information for our Minnesota Football 2014 Spring Wrap Up. For more Minnesota football information, commentary and analysis, you can follow Tom on Twitter @TheDailyGopher.