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Updated: April 3rd, 2012 10:40pm
Notebook: Tony Dungy visits Gophers, not interested in A.D. position

Notebook: Tony Dungy visits Gophers, not interested in A.D. position

by Nate Sandell
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Three weeks into spring practice, the Gophers football team received a surprising addition to their daily routine Tuesday with a visit from one of the program's most notable alums.

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, in the Twin Cities to attend the Athletes in Action fundraising luncheon in Edina, made a brief stop at his alma mater.

Dungy, who played quarterback for the Cal Stoll-led "U" squads of the mid-1970s, addressed the current team prior to practice, delivering a message rooted in the pillars of leadership wisdom he has become known for. The speech had the desired effect among the notably impressed players.

"That was a great experience being in there," junior offensive lineman Ed Olson Jr. said. "He was talking about character on and off the field. It was a great message for us, because he was saying not to base your whole life on football. There's a lot more to life then football -- spiritually and socially."

Coach Jerry Kill has gotten to know Dungy over the past year and happily welcomed the renowned "U" alum to practice.

"I've always said, in my opinion he is what you should be in coaching the game of football," Kill said. "It's great for our kids to hear from somebody of their own."

After speaking with the team, Dungy toured the University's other athletic facilities, meeting with athletes from several of the school's multitude of sports.

Dungy's visit didn't have any of the ulterior motives beyond a goodwill trip to his alma mater that some Gophers fans may have been hoping for. Dungy debunked speculation that he could be in the running for the University's open athletic director position, which he admitted he had been previously approached about.

"I did hear a little bit about it," Dungy told reporters at the luncheon. "But I think I've kind of indicated to people I'm really happy doing what I'm and enjoying life. Never went farther than that."

Notes from practice No. 7

• Position based drills were the focus Tuesday, but practice ended with a short scrimmage. The offense has been hit-or-miss as instillation of several new schemes is ongoing, and that trend continued.

Cornerback Michael Carter highlighted a sound showing by the "U" defense with a near interception off quarterback MarQueis Gray. Carter instinctively made a quick move to cut off the intended receiver's route, lunging for a ball that if caught would have been returned for a large gain.

With the pads on, players aren't holding back from impact. Defensive backs Derrick Wells and Cedric Thompson combined to lay a heavy hit on wide receiver Derrick Engel -- a newcomer from Winona State -- that incited a buzz from the fans and alums standing on the sideline.

Despite the clear edge by the defense, the youthful group of running backs -- fronted by junior college transfer James Gillum and sophomore David Cobb -- sporadically busted through to produce a series of sizeable gains.

"The thing that is happening right now is that the guys are experiencing the ups-and-downs," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "We're putting a lot of things in and because of that those guys are struggling at times and some of them have better days than others."

• Given time to review video, Kill expressed he was impressed with the Gophers' first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, apart from brief conditioning and mental lapses.

"I think we've got some kids thinking a lot because they are new, but overall I thought Saturday was a very good football practice for us," Kill said.

• The Gophers made it through the second week of spring practice without any new additions to their injury report. Sophomore offensive lineman tweaked his ankle on a play Tuesday, but it appeared to be only a minor sprain.

Safety Brock Vereen (knee), running backs Donnell Kirkwood (hamstring) and Mike Henry (concussion), linebacker Brendan Beal (knee) and offensive lineman Jimmy Gjere (concussion) remain in orange none-contact jerseys. A return to the field, at least to some extent, may still occur for all five before the conclusion of practices, but it is more likely that they will have to wait until fall camp to be cleared by the medical staff.

Linebacker Keanon Cooper (wrist) and receiver Marcus Jones (knee) have been allowed a bit more freedom, cleared to participate in select position drills. However, those limitations are expected to stay in place for the entirety of the spring.

• Former Gophers running back Duane Bennett -- the team's leading rusher at the position last year (Gray was the overall leader) -- was out at practice for the second time Tuesday, spending his visit watching the young halfback corps.

Bennett, who graduated last spring, is following through on his NFL aspirations. Already signed with an agent, he is living and training in Minneapolis while awaiting a potential invite from a team to OTA's in the summer and eventually training camp. Bennett intends to workout this summer with Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald as part of the Minnesota native's annual training program held on campus.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell