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Updated: August 5th, 2012 7:07pm
Newcomer James Gillum quietly meeting expectations at running back

Newcomer James Gillum quietly meeting expectations at running back

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- James Gillum isn't a vocal presence on the practice field, but the junior Gophers running back is making an impression on his new team in other ways.

Since joining the Gophers in January, the soft-spoken transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, brought in to infuse the team's running backs unit with fresh talent, has risen to top of the depth chart.

Two practices into fall camp, Gillum has done nothing to dampen the coaching staff 's belief that he can handle a starting role right away. Just don't expect him to say much about it.

"James has always been that way," coach Jerry Kill said about Gillum's quiet demeanor. "He's been that way his whole life. He's been that way in junior college. He's not a guy that is going to say a whole lot. He goes to work and does what he is supposed to do. That's just his personality. That's a good way to have them, I can tell you that."

Gillum had been a target of Kill's coaching staff for the last three years, dating back to their stint at Northern Illinois. A balanced running back with an up-tempo, smart playing style, Gillum was a force at the junior college level. He was a constant in fixture in the endzone in his two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast, tallying 25 touchdowns and 2,339 yards.

Getting even a semblance of that success out of Gillum would be an upgrade to an unproven running back corps. Thus far, Gillum has made the transition to the Gophers with no setbacks -- a process aided by his ability to practice with the team in the spring. By the first practice of camp on Saturday, any was uneasiness he may felt several months earlier had dissipated.

"At the end of spring practice I felt like I got comfortable with the system. I studied the playbook. I got a lot of help from the guys," Gillum said. "The first practice was good, because I felt comfortable with the system and I knew the plays. I felt good. I felt real good. I felt loose with what I had to do."

Gillum has shared time on the first team offense with sophomore Donnell Kirkwood in the first two days of camp. Kirkwood, whose 243 rushing yards in 2011 is the most of any of the Gophers' returning running backs. Gillum -- a better all-around back than Kirkwood -- appears to have the edge at this stage in camp, but Kirkwood is likely to stay firmly near the top of the rotation into the season.

While it is still early, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover insists Gillum will be able to handle the large amount responsibility the Gophers intend to give him.

"I think James is a guy who, as those lights go on, he's just going to get better and better," Limegrover said. "And he's going to be a guy that is going to be consistent."

Notes

• Sophomore back-up quarterback Max Shortell rebounded from a shaky first practice with sound showing Sunday, displaying quality arm strength with several accurate deep passes.

• The Gophers had a brief scare early in practice when wide receiver Marcus Jones incidentally slammed into a teammate on a passing route, tweaking his surgically repaired knee. Jones fell to the ground in pain, while team trainers immediately came out to check on him. But a few minutes later he was back in the huddle.

Proof that Jones was fine came shortly after when he reeled in a 40-yard pass from Shortell in the corner of the endzone during passing shell drills.

• Freshmen wide receivers Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison both garnered cheers from the offense Saturday with impressive catches in nine-on-nine drills. McDonald, a product of Hopkins high school, beat cornerback Troy Stoudermire on a slant route and was able to plant his feet in-bounds as he caught a 35-yard pass from starting quarterback MarQueis Gray.

• The Gophers donned their new sleek, Nike designed helmets in the first two practices of camp to start breaking them in for the season. They will switch back to their old headgear on Monday. A small No. 51 sticker has been added to back of the practice helmets in a nod to former linebacker Gary Tinsley, who passed away suddenly on April 6.

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