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Updated: August 8th, 2011 10:30pm
Jerry Kill back to being 'a ball coach' as Gophers open practice

Jerry Kill back to being 'a ball coach' as Gophers open practice

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Fifteen weeks removed from his team's last practice, "U" football coach Jerry Kill is back in his comfort zone.

The Gophers opened fall camp Monday with the first of 26 pre-season practices before their Sept. 3 opener against USC. With the season underway, Kill returned to his fiery, high-spirited demeanor that was on display throughout the spring.

"I didn't have any phone calls. I didn't have to check on anything. I didn't have to talk to anybody," Kill said. "I got to be out there and be a ball coach, which I don't get a chance to do very often."

On top of game planning, Kill spent the off-season fulfilling the less-talked about responsibilities that go along with being a Big Ten coach, making countless public appearances and granting endless interview requests. The grueling schedule left Kill looking a bit worn out when he addressed the media at last Thursday's pre-season news conference.

But any fatigue he was suffering from was gone on Monday. He spent the majority of practice working with the team's underclassmen and didn't hold back from bluntly showing them how he wants things handled.

"For a while, I hadn't seen him get hyped up because he was doing interviews around the state," quarterback MarQueis Gray said. "But it's good to see him out here flying around, yelling and screaming again. You know it's football season."

Fit for the fall

Whether the Gophers upheld the new coaching staff's up-tempo mentality throughout the off-season was a major question mark heading into fall camp.

It's only one practice into the season, but players appeared to have followed through on the rigorous training schedule set out by strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein. Apart from a few missteps Monday, there were no glaring instances of players looking out-of-shape or struggling to keep up.

"They really did a good job with the specific things we asked them to do over the summer," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "They took to heart what we talked about. Not just strength and conditioning, but also the football related stuff. You could see they were further along today than they were after the spring game."

The tempo of practice was not where it was at the end of spring, but most of Monday was dedicated to working on technique and different formations.

As would be expected, there was a noticeable level of excitement from the team to be out of the weight room and back in pads.

"We did all the physical stuff (in the summer)," senior defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey said. "It's all mental now. It's about developing that mentality to go head first into whatever we have to do ... Guys' heads are where they are supposed to be."

Kill, however, won't be satisfied until he sees more from his team as practice progresses.

"I thought some guys looked quicker and faster, but you always do on the first day," Kill said. "Anybody can do something in one day. You've got to do it through a period of time."

McKnight not fully ready

With an already limited array of weapons at receiver, the Gophers can't afford to have any major injuries, especially to their marquee threat Da'Jon McKnight.

That is why the coaching staff is easing McKnight back into practice after he spent the summer recovering from a left knee injury he suffered early in spring practice.

The senior receiver was on the field Monday, but in a limited capacity, running several routes early on before being scaled back towards the end of practice.

Surprisingly, McKnight said the first time the knee felt pain-free was last week. He put his health at 90 percent and is targeting next week as his return to full-strength.

It wouldn't be surprising to see his reps limited longer than just one week. The Gophers have no reason to overload him in fall camp. They have a number of unproven receivers to sift through as they try to find more options for Gray to throw to.

Notes

• Sophomore offensive lineman Brooks Michel will not play this season as he is battling post-concussion symptoms. He has already been granted a medical-redshirt and will remain on scholarship.

• Projected starting center Ryan Wynn was away from the team Monday due to the recent passing of his grandfather. Offensive lineman Jonathan Ragoo also did not practice, to which Kill said was because of personal reasons.

• Several true freshmen made their practice debuts Monday, including top-Minnesota recruit Tommy Olson and quarterback Dexter Foreman, who was a last-minute addition to this year's recruiting class. Kill said he plans to wait at least two or three weeks before he begins to think about which players to redshirt.

• Among numerous University officials in attendance, men's basketball coach Tubby Smith made an appearance at practice.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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