Notebook: Gophers' Lamonte Edwards 'digging' transition to linebacker
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The urge is gone.
When Gophers redshirt sophomore Lamonte Edwards sees a running back hurtling towards him, he no longer has the yearning to switch places. Instead, he's poised now to deliver a hit from the other side.
Switched from running back to linebacker midway through his freshman season, Edwards has overcome his initial hesitation to leave the position he was recruited to play and is embracing a role that has come with a sharp learning curve.
"I'm definitely digging it now," Edwards said with obvious enthusiasm.
His comfort on defense is increasing as the spring practice season closes in on its final week. On-field reps have been plentiful for Edwards this spring, which in turn has brought him closer to becoming an integral part of the "U" linebacker corps.
"He's gotten to where he understands now, so the game has slowed down and he's running faster," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "He is a great football player. I believe that. "
The transition wasn't always a smooth one. Three weeks into the 2011 season, following the Gophers' victory over Miami-Ohio, coach Jerry Kill and his staff approached Edwards with a new assignment. There was little grace period as he was thrust into a nine-game stretch of trial and error that Claeys later admitted was "unfair" to make him endure at such an abrupt juncture.
Edwards didn't resist the change, doing what he could to rapidly internalize a torrent of information, but found himself at times forced to squash a desire to carry the ball again. That was paired with an uncertainty created by trying to grasp the Gophers' defensive scheme.
"It was almost every practice pretty much," Edwards said. "I was more focused on what I had to do then actually doing it."
The off-season changed matters. His nerves diminished in captains' practices as he finally had time to adapt to his spot at linebacker free of game-to-game pressures. It has shown in spring ball. Edwards' previous tentativeness has been replaced with a renewed confidence.
It helps to have the guidance of one of the Gophers' mainstays on defense. Senior linebacker Keanon Cooper was quick to befriend Edwards, developing a lasting bond during the off-season on and away from the practice field. Cooper has witnessed Edwards' transformation first-hand and is excited by the results.
"For me, I feel real good when I see him making plays, especially when its things he wasn't doing last year, things he was getting," Cooper said. "This year it is clicking and he's out there running around. You can tell he's not thinking as much. He's being himself."
And it bodes well for Edwards in the season ahead. He is likely to be slated as one the Gophers' first options off the bench.
• The Gophers were under the lights at TCF Bank Stadium Friday for their only night practice of the spring and first full-fledge scrimmage. Anticipation was ripe among the players. Several took Twitter throughout the day in a stream of banter between the offense and defense. Apart from a rash of penalties at the end of practice, both sides had a fairly fluid outing.
We played a lot of kids. We got everybody in there," Kill said afterwards. "We've got a few (players) that don't quite understand everything, ... But other than (the penalties at the end) there wasn't a lot of mistakes, which is certainly an improvement.
• One of the top plays of the night came when freshman quarterback Phillip Nelson connected with wide receiver A.J. Barker for 45-yard touchdown pass. Nelson has looked shaky in practice this spring, but for the most part played under control and poised on Friday. The touchdown catch was one out of a multitude of receptions for Barker.
• Sophomore running back Cole Banham pulled off a swift 55-yard run with the third team offense. However, he fumbled on the ensuing possession.
• Senior middle linebacker Mike Rallis pulled his right hamstring early on in the scrimmage and did not return. Rallis was walking gingerly on the sidelines, but the injury didn't appear to be serious.
• The defense was getting solid pressure on the quarterback, tallying several would-be sacks. Senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire blitzed in from the edge on a pair of plays to pick up touches on quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell
• The Gophers will travel to Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday to attend the funeral services of teammate Gary Tinsley. Kill and his team have endured a tumultuous week as they cope with Tinsley's sudden passing last Friday.
"It'll be a tough day for our kids. They've rallied hard. What they did tonight was incredible," Kill said. "Gary stood for a tremendous amount of good things and left a legacy that we all have to live up to."
They are slated to meet at the team's practice facility at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday before boarding a 6:30 flight. Given the short turnaround, Kill said some members of his coaching staff plan to spend the night at the office.