Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Insight Bowl is the Unofficial Beginning of the 2010 Season

It's not that we're not going to miss the senior class of 2009. We really are. I mean, how could you NOT miss guys like Eric Decker, the Tow-Arnetts, Matt Stommes, and nine of our eleven defensive starters? But in a Marcus Fuller story today for the PP, Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said what everyone already knows: auditions for the 2010 team start against Iowa State.

Now sure, offensive starting spots should have been open for competition after the Ohio State game, but never late than never right? At least the ever-positive Brewster is finally admitting his woeful offense just might have some problems, and that bringing eight starters back on offense is not necessarily a good thing:

"We've been an inconsistent football team this year offensively," the Gophers' third-year coach said. "I think our whole offense is being challenged; every player on the offense, not just (quarterback) Adam (Weber), not just the receivers. We want to challenge everybody to go out and play well."

It tells you how bad the offense was when the team is going to lose nine of its eleven defensive starters, yet Brewster doesn't say a word about competition on that side of the ball. Sure, part of that is that there won't be as many opportunities for playing time in the bowl game because we have so many seniors on defense, but I wonder if, like me, Brewster is much more confident about our defense next year than our offense. I certainly am. I know we lose our entire front seven and both starting corners, but we have some talent on the D-Line, some really good speed at linebacker (especially if Sam Maresh is somewhere close to 100%), and well you know about my man-love for corner Michael Carter. While this unit will be forced to gel quickly, I have little doubt right now that our 2010 defense can be every bit as good as the 2009 group.

But the offense? Yeesh, that's another story. While it's not going to take much for the group to be better, I'm hoping we're setting the bar just a wee bit higher than that. I want a competent offense that can actually, you know, move the ball and score and stuff. I want an offense that doesn't have to settle for field goals to beat a 1-AA opponent, or can actually score a few points against Iowa. Really, I don't ask for much. It's Christmas, after all.

I think we've covered the quarterback situation, so I'll spare you my 9000th take on that whole thing. Wide receiver is without question the position I have the most confidence in, although it's probably sad that my reason for feeling that way is I'm clinging to the glimmer of hope that was the Michigan State game. Da'Jon McKnight has a chance to be an all-conference performer, and as someone who did not play football his sophomore or junior year of high school, he just needs to reps to get there. Brandon Green, if he can ever stay healthy, is an excellent possession receiver who can actually get deep- we just have to have Jed Fisch actually call for him to run further than 10 yards down field. I think Green could be the go-to guy, if only he's given the opportunity. Troy Stoudermire is an enigma who should not be counted on to be a major factor, but is a nice fourth option for the occassional times he can get deep and actually catch the ball. Bryant Allen showed some flashes as a freshman, and if nothing else has some athletic ability and will hopefully show some more consistency next year.

The two real question marks are Hayo! Carpenter and incoming freshman, and former Tennesee recruit, James Green. Some people around football already believe Green will walk right in and start for us next year, but forgive me if I'm a little more cautious in my expectations. After all, it was Hayo! who about this time last year was being touted as an instant-starter and impact player out of junior college, yet in 2009 on a team DYING for somebody to fill the Decker void, Carpenter saw the field about as much as you or I did. There's no doubting Green's credentials, but jumping from high school to the Big Ten is a big jump, and whether he can step right in and be our go-to guy is certainly not certain. And can we get ANYTHING out of Carpenter? Was he simply the most over-hyped player in the history of ever, or can he get his stuff together and get on the field in 2010 and be the guy we thought we were getting?

At running back, we're pretty much left hoping that either Kevin Whaley continues to improve or one of the trio of incoming freshmen- Devon Wright, Lamonte Edwards and Darnell Kirkwood- pans out. Duane Bennett just has not recovered to be the kind of player he was before last year's knee injury, and DeLeon Eskridge sucks. There, I said it. He sucks. Unless you have an offensive line opening gargantuan holes for him, Eskridge can do absolutely nothing on his own but fall down. Shady Soloman has been working with the defensive backs during the bowl practices, and you can bet that if he couldn't get regular touches this year, there's no way he factors into the running back competition next year.

Finally, we have the most important, and most worrisome, group on the team: our offensive line. We have not had good line play in Brewster's three seasons here, and if the offense has any chance whatsoever in 2010, no matter how good the skill position talent, we're going nowhere without the line playing much, much, much, much, much (ok you get the idea) MUCH better. And from the looks of it, unless we're able to land some guy named Seantrel, we're going to have to count on the same group of guys getting a lot better, because there doesn't appear to be much in the way of immediate help coming in. The only guy that I've heard could compete for playing time right away is four star New Brighton, MN tackle Jimmy Gjere and like with James Green, counting on a true freshman is always dicey So we're looking at the same guys who couldn't get it done this year and hoping they can get it done next year.

If nothing else, the Insight Bowl should provide some insight (sorry, couldn't help it) into what the offense could look like for 2010. Let's hope it doesn't anything like what we saw in 2009.

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