Minnesota Football: 9 Items on the Summer "to-Do" List
The Minnesota Golden Gophers football program is coming off of a three-win season in 2010.
Jerry Kill is entering his first season as head coach, and he has quite a few improvements to make before the season starts.
In all three aspects of the game, questions need to be answered.
This summer, Kill will try to accomplish a number of the things on his "to-do" list.
Let's take a look at some things the program needs to work on this summer.
9. Find a Viable Kicker
The Gophers kicking game was horrid last season.
Eric Ellestad converted only 11 of his 17 field goal attempts.
There were a number of times that a missed field goal killed momentum for the Gophers.
They cannot have another season without a trustworthy kicker.
Chris Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, may be the best option for the upcoming season.
He will face competition from incumbents Jordan Wettstein and David Schwerman, but all signs point to Hawthorne winning the job.
Jerry Kill needs to find his starting kicker this summer, and hopefully Hawthorne proves himself.
8. Continue Training
Jerry Kill is a very different coach from Tim Brewster.
He works his players much harder. It seems as if he is using Darwinism to find his starters. Players must survive Kill's workouts, and the fittest will earn their playing time.
Kill needs to continue working his players extremely hard this summer.
He can do this by assigning them workouts and checking in with players as much as the NCAA will allow him.
Brewster seemed to always lose control of his players.
Kill cannot let this happen, and this summer is a good chance to start off on the right track.
7. Improve the Special Teams
As I have already mentioned, Minnesota needs to find a consistent kicker.
Every other aspect of their special teams need work as well.
The punting game was very weak. According to gophersports.com, Dan Orseske averaged 36.1 yards per punt last season on 49 attempts. Opponents usually did not even have to return the punt, because it was short enough that they already had good field position without even touching it.
The return game also has room for improvement.
Troy Stoudermire can be a weapon in the kick-return game. As long as he continues to work hard this summer, he will continue to be an asset.
Minnesota will need to find a replacement for Bryant Allen in the punt-return game. Allen was nothing special, so this summer will be key in finding a viable returner.
The Gophers did the small things terribly on special teams last season.
This is definitely something Jerry Kill needs to address this summer.
6. Make Fans Believe
According to gophersports.com, Jerry Kill has been on the road, introducing himself to fans around the state of Minnesota.
This is the best thing he could be doing with his time right now.
He is now the head coach of a fanbase that pushed out the former coach by expressing their frustration through every possible outlet.
To say the least, these fans do not believe in the future of this program.
Kill needs to re-energize this fan base. He needs to help them feel that there is hope.
His travels around the state show that he is committed. He needs to continue to work hard this summer and let fans know how hard he is trying to turn the program around.
This will definitely help them believe.
5. Turn Michael Carter into a Shutdown Corner
Michael Carter was one of the best recruits Tim Brewster brought in during his tenure.
He is also one of the most representative players of the Brewster era.
Carter does not have the attitude of a star player, and seems to put himself before the team. He is another player Brewster seems to have lost.
Jerry Kill will not allow him to float through the season like Brewster did.
Carter has the talent to be a shutdown corner. He needs to work extremely hard this summer to take the next step. He has had two mediocre seasons, but through hard work, he can have a stellar season.
4. Find a Pass Rushing Defensive End
The Gophers did not have a legitimate pass rush in 2010.
Matt Garin and D.L. Wilhite began the season on the outside of the defensive line. Garin turned into a rotational player and Wilhite failed to impress.
There is still potential on the roster.
Two viable options to rush the passer in 2011 are Kendall Gregory-McGhee and Wilhite.
Gregory-McGhee may be the most physically gifted defensive end on the team. He may also be the laziest on game day. If Jerry Kill can get more out of him, he may turn into a lethal pass rusher.
Wilhite is undersized, yet makes up for it with speed. He can get up the field, but has failed to convert on bringing the quarterback down. Kill will like this guy's speed, and hopefully he can help Wilhite accumulate more sacks.
This is a key point on the 2011 summer checklist for the Gophers.
They failed to make quarterbacks even think about the pass rush last season, and that has to change.
3. Improve the Pass Defense
The Minnesota defensive secondary was dismal last season.
They did not allow the defensive line to rush the passer, because they didn't cover well enough.
Most of the big plays that the Gophers allowed last season were through the air. This cannot happen again this season.
In fact, with most of the secondary returning, including Kim Royston who received a sixth year of eligibility, it needs to become a strength of the defense.
With a mostly strong front seven slowing down the Big Ten running games, Jerry Kill needs to focus on making his defensive secondary one of the best in the conference.
2. Sort out the Backfield
The Golden Gophers have five viable options at running back.
DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett were featured last season, and they return this year for their senior campaigns.
Eskridge and Bennett were not spectacular last season. Actually, they were somewhat below-average. Eskridge is a true runner, but lacks elite speed or power. He may need to slide down the depth chart.
Bennett can play a role as a pass catcher and occasional runner. He is much more shifty and has more speed than Eskridge.
Minnesota also has three redshirt freshmen running backs on the roster: Lamonte Edwards, Donnell Kirkwood, and Devon Wright
The three freshmen need to be given a chance to prove themselves.
Kirkwood was the only one to get playing time last year, and proved to have a bright future.
This team needs to find some stability in the running game over the summer.
The seniors have proven they will not provide what the team is looking for.
It is time for the young runners to get a chance. Hopefully, they work hard over the summer and get the opportunity.
1. Prepare MarQueis Gray
MarQueis Gray will be the face of the Minnesota program for the next two years.
With Adam Weber still in town, Gray played full-time at wide receiver last season, and saw limited time on the field in his freshman season.
This year, Gray will play the position he came here to play: quarterback.
For quarterbacks, experience is the most important thing. Obviously, Gray is playing this year somewhat like it is his freshman season.
Still, Gray has taken snaps in games under center, but mostly to run the ball.
All that he can do is prepare for the first game.
He needs to be working out, studying film, eating right, and practicing with his receivers on his own time.
Coach Jerry Kill has made it clear that Gray has a long way to go before he will be ready for the opener.
This summer, Gray needs get ready, and this may be the most important offseason task for the entire program.