Notebook: Gophers RB Donnell Kirkwood not expected to play Saturday
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener, Minnesota Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood is expected to miss his second straight game Saturday against Western Illinois.
Coach Jerry Kill said after practice Wednesday Kirkwood is not "100%" yet, but has been encouraged by the progress of the redshirt junior's rehab. Kirkwood was able to take limited, no-contact reps in practice.
With Kirkwood sidelined, the Gophers are "not going to change anything" when it comes to their tailback situation, Kill noted. That means sophomore Rodrick Williams Jr. and junior David Cobb will be relied on to anchor the backfield again like they did last week in a 44-21 victory at New Mexico State.
Edwards not ready to return
Freshman running back Berkley Edwards is also a no-go for Saturday. Edwards has been hampered by a severe knee and ankle sprain since the last week of fall camp. Kill said Edwards is behind Kirkwood in terms of recovery.
After the Gophers were gearing up to throw Edwards into the running back mix right away, the longer his rehab takes, the more likely it becomes that the coaching staff will chose to keep a redshirt on him.
No room to be complacent
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is usually a notably level-headed guy, but he wasn't a happy camper last Saturday when saw his defense back down after the Gophers had opened a 27-7 lead just before halftime.
Even though the defense has produced a pair of overall sound games, Claeys wants any shred of the complacency that cropped at New Mexico State to be nonexistent on Saturday.
"We were on a roll. We came out and we played a lot better at the beginning of the ball game then we did before (vs UNLV)," Claeys said. "We got a lead. We got relaxed, and that's what happens. We need to be greedy and dominate and not just take 'We're going to win' and be satisfied."
Working through the grind
A long and hot trip to Las Cruces, N.M., capped by a 4 a.m. arrival back in the Twin Cities on Sunday, still has the Gophers trying to rebound.
"I think our kids are still recovering a little bit," Kill said. "I can tell you it's been tough on our coaches and everybody. This week has been a little bit more of a grind for them."
Wells feeling back to normal
Starting cornerback Derrick Wells insists he is back at full speed after a being limited last week in his return from missing time with hamstring issues. Wells said he wasn't at "100%" against New Mexico State, reflected in his use primarily in a backup and special teams capacity.
The Gophers are especially in need of a healthy Wells in the secondary in the wake of losing junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the year with a torn ACL and MCL -- an injury he endured on the second play of New Mexico State's opening drive.
Boddy-Calhoun's abrupt absence has forced defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys to reexamine his nickel package rotation. Boddy was being used at both nickel and on the boundary when Wells was limited the last two weeks.
Claeys is looking get a permanent spot in nickel situations for sophomore Eric Murray, wanting him to be able "get comfortable" at either field corner or on the boundary.
Tough blow to take
Boddy-Calhoun, who has a reputation for being one of the most upbeat and positive players on the Gophers' roster, was at practice Wednesday, despite a heavy brace on his injured right knee.
Kill said the news hit hard when he received word early in the week about the severity of the injury.
"I'm telling you as a coach, it breaks your heart, because he is a great kid," Kill said. "He's a heck of a kid. Do our kids rally around that? Shoot, I rally around that."
Boddy-Calhoun is set to undergo surgery on Friday. It is projected that he will be granted a medical redshirt to allow him to retain two years of eligibility.