Gophers fall camp Day 9: Philip Nelson solid, composed in scrimmage
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Following an up and down first week of fall camp, Philip Nelson gave solid credence to his spot as the Minnesota Gophers' starting quarterback in the team's first scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Nelson and the first team offense didn't waste time establishing a steady rhythm early on. In the offense's initial drive, the Gophers cushioned their persistent ground game, led by running back Donnell Kirkwood, with several passes off play action mixed in.
Nelson, showing command and composure under center, went 4-for-4 on the drive, including a short touchdown pass to speedy sophomore receiver K.J. Maye.
"I think the kids offensively, in the quarterback position, I saw some great things," coach Jerry Kill said afterwards. "Philip got off to a great start. He was sharp."
Current No. 2 quarterback Mitch Leidner had his moments, but the second team offense struggled to stay cohesive throughout the scrimmage, leading to several misguided plays. Leidner showed off his confidence in his scrambling ability, capitalizing on numerous play options that allowed him to tuck the ball and run. But as a whole, Leidner and the offense weren't able to sustain a solid drive.
Leidner wasn't shy from owning up to his unit's inconsistencies
"I felt we didn't execute as well on the second group as we'd like to," Leidner said. "We did some good things, but we just had a hard time getting a drive going together."
The biggest plus for both quarterbacks was that they emerged with zero interceptions or turnovers, in what Kill referenced as the first time in camp the first and second team offenses have looked "pretty clean." Leidner had a pass tipped by 6-foot-5 freshman defensive end Hendrick Ekpe, but the ball fell to the ground away from the defense.
There will undoubtedly be ongoing competition at quarterback as camp progresses, but Nelson gave notice Saturday that he has found a renewed comfort level in his starting role.
"I think we did a really great job mixing up the play calls, getting some play action in," Nelson said of the offense. "We've established our role (as an offense). We have to be able to run the ball. We have to be able to play action pass and we've got to be able to get in the gun and run the ball forward."
Notes from Day 9 of fall camp
• Mentions of freshman running back Berkley Edwards' head-turning speed have been frequent in the first week of camp. Edwards put that speed on display Saturday.
Taking reps with the third team offense, Edwards took his first carry of the afternoon and tore through the middle of the defense, barely touched, for a 70-yard touchdown run.
"I went crazy. I love seeing those young guys do that kind of stuff," 19-year-old K.J. Maye said.
• Senior left tackle Ed Olson was not at the scrimmage after waking up with the flu. Redshirt freshman receiver Jamel Harbison was held out as a precaution due to tightness in one of his hamstrings.
Kill and the coaching staff have been markedly cautious in monitoring injured players. Cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder) and safety Brock Vereen (knee), both of whom were limited at times earlier in the week, did not play. Freshman linebacker De'Niro Laster, who injured his knee on Thursday, spent the afternoon on the sidelines as well.
• With Wells out, junior cornerback Briean Boddy took his first team reps opposite sophomore Eric Murray. In nickel packages, Murray played down in the Nickel, where Wells will likely be situated, while senior Martez Shabazz came in to play field corner with Boddy.
• Defensive end Theiren Cockran had a pair of would-be sacks on Nelson, showing his speed in chasing the sophomore quarterback out to the right on a play action run.
• For the first time in camp in a full team drill, freshman quarterback Donovahn Jones was shifted out wide as a receiver. Jones has crafty speed and he was able to unleash it take a straight route down the left sideline, despite not being able to complete the catch. Jones still took snaps at quarterback, used largely as a running option. On one of Jones' few throws, freshman linebacker Chris Wipson stepped in and made an easy interception.
• The use of Maye on the first team was intriguing. Maye was very active in the passing game, being used often in motion and in the slot. He also has a notable level of chemistry with Nelson. After switching full time from running back to receiver in the offseason, Maye is starting to thrive in the stability of his role.
"We're just focusing this year on getting me in a steady position and to be a playmaker to the team," Maye said.
• Under a sunny blue sky at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers had a sizeable crowd turn out for their first and only scrimmage opened to the public this fall.
• The Gophers are off on Sunday, but the coaches are expected to meet and start making a few roster decisions as far as firming up their best first and second team options.