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Updated: March 28th, 2012 4:05am
Notebook: Gophers senior Mike Rallis settling in at middle linebacker

Notebook: Gophers senior Mike Rallis settling in at middle linebacker

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For Gophers senior Mike Rallis, change is good.

After three seasons spent developing into a stalwart at outside linebacker, Rallis is shifting over to the middle.

The departure of Gary Tinsley -- an everyday starter at middle linebacker for the last two years -- created a void at the center of the defense. The Gophers, in need of a veteran, physical presence to plug the gap, have spent the off-season and into spring practice grooming Rallis to be their man in the middle.

Rallis accepted the new responsibility without hesitation and, four practices into the spring, is settling in with little trouble.

"I like it. It takes a little bit getting used to, just seeing things from a different spot," Rallis said. "But it's really not all that different though from the position I was playing ... Sometimes you're doing some different things. But I try to pride myself on all three positions anyway, so it's been pretty smooth."

At middle linebacker, the onus is put on being able to read opposing offenses and signal players to move into the correct positions -- duties befitting of Rallis, whose unshakeable demeanor has led to his readily apparent ascension to a leader on the Gophers defense. Rallis -- the team's third leading tackler last season (83) -- is equipped with an acute field awareness few of teammates share.

"Mike Rallis is a smart guy," fellow senior linebacker Spencer Reeves said. "He knows the defense just as well as the coaches do."

Slightly undersized, Rallis became fixated in the winter on further cultivating the make-up and speed of a middle linebacker. The grueling workout regimen set by strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein, which he endured on a daily basis with his teammates in the off-season, is showing its benefits as he has put on 10 to 15 pounds in the last three months, bumping up to a listed weight of 245.

Rallis' smooth adjustment has garnered him the admiration of the player he succeeded.

"He's never played there, but he's smart enough," said Tinsley, who was in attendance at practice Tuesday. "He's gotten way bigger. He looks like a middle linebacker."

Whether the move will carry over to the Gophers' first game Aug. 30 against UNLV won't be known for another five months. But indications are Rallis is there to stay. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said the switch is permanent, at least for the duration of spring practice.

Notes from practice No. 4

• Newcomer James Gillum continues to attract heavy praise from coach Jerry Kill and his staff. Gillum, a junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast community college, is expected to be the primary contender for the Gophers' top running back spot. The junior Louisiana native, who enrolled at the "U" in January and spent off-season workouts with the team, hasn't expressed any signs of discomfort or hesitation in adapting to a new offense.

"James Gillum is going to be a special player," Kill said. "He runs with a low pad level. He is a physical runner and he has great speed. And we knew that before he came in. He's going to be a guy that is going to really help us out. He's going to be a great pick-up for us."

• The offense looked shaky and sloppy throughout practice Tuesday. All four quarterbacks struggled to discover their accuracy, with starter MarQueis Gray and incoming freshman Phillip Nelson throwing interceptions during a series of shell drills.

• There were no notable additions to the Gophers' injury list.

Running back Donnell Kirkwood remains confined to an orange non-contact jersey after popping his hamstring on the first day of practice last Thursday. Kill said a return to individual workouts is possible before the end of the spring season on April 21, but it appears likely Kirkwood won't be engaged in a full practice until fall camp. The sophomore running back posted 229 rushing yards 2001 -- the most of among the Gophers' returning halfbacks.

Safety Brock Vereen (knee), linebacker Brendan Beal (knee) and running back Mike Henry (concussion) are still yet to be cleared for contact.

Sophomore wide receiver Marcus Jones is far ahead of his projected timetable in his recovery from an ACL tear in October. Jones, dressed in a green limited contact jersey, has taken a steady amount of reps in every practice, showing a remarkably wide range of mobility only five months removed from major knee surgery.

Though his progress has been deemed as "unbelievable" by his head coach, Jones won't be allowed to participate in a full practice until the fall, Kill confirmed Tuesday.

"We're doing just what we want to do with him," Kill said. "We don't have to play next week, so we'll be very cautious with those guys who are in green ... We know he's a physical player. We know he's going to play. We just want to get the timing and the reps done."

• Practice resumes Thursday at 3:15 p.m. after a one-day break. As with all 15 practices this spring, the two-hour session is open to the public.

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