Updated: September 3rd, 2013 6:45pm
Donnell Kirkwood's ankle injury has opened the door in 'U' backfield

Donnell Kirkwood's ankle injury has opened the door in 'U' backfield

by Nate Sandell
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With Donnell Kirkwood and Berkley Edwards both nursing ankle injuries, the Minnesota Gophers may have to rely on other options when they travel to New Mexico State on Saturday.

Kirkwood and Edwards both did not practice on Monday, and as of Tuesday coach Jerry Kill is considering the pair as questionable for the second game of the season.

"Donnell is walking better, but that's not running and cutting," Kill said. "Berkley is still making progress. We'll see what happens as the week goes on."

Kirkwood, the Gophers' starting tailback, exited a 51-23 defeat of UNLV last Thursday after tweaking his right ankle on a third quarter run. No longer in the walking boot he had on soon after the injury, Kirkwood is gradually progressing to where he may able to test his ankle in practice.

Edwards, one of the top freshmen in the Gophers' 2013 class, has been forced to the sideline since catching his ankle awkwardly during the final week of fall camp. Kill said until Edwards is able to plant and cut on the run, "we're not going to take any risks whatsoever" in playing him.

If both can't play against New Mexico State, the Gophers' run game will take on interesting wrinkle and could be an area of slight concern.

Sophomore Rodrick Williams Jr. and junior David Cobb would likely become focal points in the "U" backfield, with Cole Banham and James Gillum also available to shoulder carries.

Luckily for the Gophers, this blow to their depth in the backfield comes early in the season and at a juncture where the benefit of giving Williams and Cobb a bump in carries could prove to be a long-term benefit.

High on potential, but lacking in-game results, Cobb was impressive against UNLV when he broke off a 60-yard run, albeit coming with the Gophers' already up 44-23. It was only the 12th run of his three-year career, but it went down as the team's longest run by a tailback in six seasons.

Consistency is crucial for Cobb and the Gophers will need it him to complement Williams, who is more of a downhill, power running back. Williams was held out of the first half due to missing a team meeting the day of the game, but he came in briefly in the second half to pick up 13 yards on four carries.

Kill's concern about his tailback situation has seemed to soften in the last few days, especially after a practice on Monday that he unabashedly deemed the best practice by his running backs in his three years at Minnesota.

"Somebody wants to step up and play," Kill said. "Rodrick, David, Cole Banham, those guys busted their butts yesterday. You'd think we were at a game. They know somebody's got a chance if Donnell isn't ready to go, and they're fighting for it."

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
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