Notebook: 'U' players stay mum on Barker situation; injuries adding up
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MINNEAPOLIS -- They knew the questions were coming.
And the Gophers players were ready for them.
When approached on Tuesday for the first time since wide receiver A.J. Barker's brash, public departure from the team, several of the Gophers' key players delivered the same message.
"I think we were pretty surprised, but that's between Coach and A.J. I'm not going to get too much into that," senior linebacker Mike Rallis said about the way Barker went announcing he was quitting - a 4,000 word blog entry filled with his reasons for leaving, amid heavy-handed criticisms of coach Jerry Kill and his staff.
Since posting the blog Sunday, Barker has been on a media-barnstorming tour, openly expressing to multiple outlets his discontent with how he claims to have been treated while with the Gophers. Among the redshirt junior's accusations were biting claims of mistreatment of an ankle injury he suffered on Oct. 27 against Purdue and the denial of a scholarship.
In the wake of Barker's spate, Kill has firmly dismissed notions of mistreatment, and defended himself repeatedly as a hard-nosed disciplinarian, but one who cares deeply for his team.
And on Tuesday, his players backed him up. While they made it clear they felt caught off-guard by the situation, there was no ill will aimed at Barker. However, there was a sense that the team had moved on.
"That's just one person's opinion," senior linebacker Keanon Cooper. "And it's an opinion. That's not a representation of how everyone feels. Coach Kill has been great. I can't speak for anybody else, but just how he has treated me and treated other players, he has been a great coach."
Quarterback MarQueis Gray admitted he has been on the wrong end of an outburst from Kill, similar to the verbal clash the head coach had with Barker last Thursday, but he has never doubted that Kill's intentions were positive.
"Everybody has," Gray said. "If you play for any coach, if you're doing something bad or doing something that's not going to benefit yourself or the team, any coach is going to let you know about it. It's how you handle yourself. Just be prepared for it. You've got to be strong-hearted about it."
The ever-growing injury list
Only one week remains in the regular season, but the injuries keep coming for the already banged up Gophers.
In the course of two days, the Gophers lost two players to potentially long-term injuries, Kill revealed Tuesday, along with several other lingering problems.
As feared, redshirt junior linebacker Brendan Beal is out after suffering his third knee injury, this time to his right knee. He had torn ligaments repaired in his left knee on two other occasions.
It's a disheartening a blow to a player that had been sidelined for four injury-filled years before making his collegiate debut this season and becoming a part of the team's main rotation at linebacker. Through 11 games, Beal had 16 tackles in his role as the Gophers' No. 2 middle linebacker behind Rallis.
The injury came on a play in the fourth quarter of the Gophers' 38-14 loss at Nebraska Saturday. Beal hobbled to the sideline, where carried the disbelief and angry of someone who realized right away the severity of what had happened.
As players shuffled out of the locker room at Memorial Stadium after the game, Kill sat with his arm around the former high school All-American and University of Florida transfer.
"For that kid, my prayers and thoughts. I hope everything goes right, but he has been through so much," Kill said. "We sat there and we just talked ... I said, "Jiminy Christmas, I feel bad for you. I wish I could give you my knees, but mine aren't any good either.' ... It's tough, but he's a persistent young man."
Kill said Beal was set to undergo another MRI on Tuesday to determine the full extent of the injury, but the results are not expected to be positive.
"It's amazing how positive he is. I can't even believe it," Rallis said. "I just feel so bad for the kid, but it's like going right back to work for him. That's the way it's always has been. I really shouldn't be surprised, but it really is amazing how positive he can remain through everything he's been through."
Beal isn't alone. Junior defensive tackle Roland Johnson is also finished for the season as a result of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Kill said the injury occurred during a walk-through on Friday prior to the team's flight to Nebraska.
"He got hurt in walk-throughs, which tells you the tough situation he had," Kill said. "You get hurt in a walk-through, tear a knee up in a walk-throughs, it's not a good day, it's not a good week."
Johnson, in his first season with the Gophers since transferring from Butler County Community, had become a key element on the defensive line. Johnson was responsible for two sacks and 21 tackles in 10 games.
The offensive line will go through another week with its lineup in question. Left tackle Marek Lenkiewicz, who underwent an MRI Sunday after leaving the Nebraska game with a knee injury, is questionable for the Gophers' season-finale on Saturday against Michigan State. He will not practice on Tuesday, Kill said.
Starting left tackle Ed Olson missed several offensive series at Nebraska in his first start back following a four-game absence due to a bum ankle. But Olson is projected to be cleared for practice this week -- a needed reprieve for the battered line.
Sophomore receiver Marcus Jones endured the Gophers' fourth knee injury of the trip to Nebraska. Jones, whose freshman season ended because of an ACL, reportedly strained his medial collateral ligament. Kill said he doesn't think Jones' issue is as severe as Johnson or Beal's, but all indications are that he won't play Saturday.
It doesn't end there. Sophomore tight end Drew Goodger is angled towards being unavailable after dislocating his shoulder. Though not ruled out completely, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Tuesday Goodger "probably won't play."
With the latest batch of battle wounds, Kill remarked he has 21 players on the injury report. If Lenkiewicz, Goodger and Jones are all forced to sit out versus Michigan State, the Gophers will have had 16 offensive players miss at least one game this season because of an injury.
"I think I'll be eating a double helping at Thanksgiving with that news," Limegrover said with a slight laugh.