MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Heading into his first fall practice, new Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill is making no promises.
The Gophers open practice Monday with every player knowing he will have to earn his spot on the roster. No one is guaranteed anything, a point Kill has made perfectly clear.
“I’m into competition every day,” Kill said Thursday. “If we’ve got somebody that can’t get the job done over the next three weeks and has maybe been playing, nobody’s entitled to anything in life. You earn it.”
Coming off a 3-9 season, which led to the ouster of coach Tim Brewster after seven games, Minnesota is in transition. Kill was hired in December to lead a team that hasn’t been at the top of the Big Ten since 1967.
Much of his early tenure has been spent trying to instill a stronger work ethic within the program. He hasn’t been shy about telling his players they need to improve in all facets, including in the classroom and the weight room.
So it’s no surprise that many of the starting spots don’t have names tied to them, even with six returning starters on offense and eight on defense. The Gophers open the season on Sept. 3 at USC.
“I think there are some places you look out and say it’s going to be hard to beat this guy because there’s not a lot of competition,” Kill said. “Other places there’s competition. I don’t get into what’s open and what’s not. We’re going to put the best player on the field. That’s what our job is.
“All of a sudden we’ve got somebody that comes in and is the best player, we’re going to play him. If we’ve got somebody that’s not performing, and we’ve got somebody that’s going to perform better, we’re going to play him. This isn’t intramurals. This is college football.”
Kill was blunt after spring practice, saying his team needed to work hard during the summer. He is eager to see which players followed through on his request.
“You’ll know pretty quick,” Kill said. “You go three huddles on the first day and you’ll find out who’s done their work.”
One of the few positions Kill has openly discussed an individual player is quarterback. Multi-threat athlete Marqueis Gray has a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot after being one of the highest-recruited quarterbacks in the 2008 class. Gray has spent the past two seasons alternating time between quarterback and wide receiver.
How his teammates fill in around him will go a long way to determining the success of Gray and the offense.
The Gophers return just two starting offensive lineman, guard Chris Bunders and tackle Ed Olson. The receiving corps has been decimated by injuries.
Last year’s leading receiver, Da’Jon McKnight, is still recovering from a knee injury and will come back slowly this fall. McKnight had 48 catches last year for 750 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We need him to be ready,” Kill said. “We’ve got to work him hard enough to get better, but we can’t have him run down to where he can’t perform. There’s a fine line in there. Spring ball is a little bit different than two-a-day camp. Everything changes a little bit.”
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