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Minnesota Football Preview: It’s Kirkwood’s time to shine for Gophers offense

Over the past few seasons you can easily argue the offense at Minnesota has nearly been a one man gang in MarQueis Gray, those results weren't exactly good and as we enter 2013 the focus of this team appears to be shifting with Gray gone and a renewed emphasis on what this roster's strength is – POWER. 

In order for this team to get over the .500 hump it's this side of the ball that needs to show up and after yesterday's look at the Gophers defense, you can see why we would say that. 

Luckily for this offense there is no shortage of potentially good things to look forward to in 2013, so let us jump right in and get a look at what the 2013 Gophers offense has to offer. 

Quarterbacks:

No more MarQueis Gray – that feels strange to type out. It seems like along with Troy Stoudermire we've been talking about him at Minnesota forever. However, thanks to injury and lack of production in his final season in Minneapolis the 2013 version of the Gophers offense could be better off. 

Enter Phillip Nelson, now a sophomore, who ended up starting seven games as a freshman last season – getting thrown to the Wolves of the Border Battle with Wisconsin for his first start. It wasn't all pretty passing wise for Nelson, who completed just 49.3% of his passes and had 8TD's to 8INT's for the year. However, in the case of Nelson it wasn't so much about the passing stats and it was about being a solid force behind center. 

He is a capable runner (4th on team in rushing yards last year) and while he made some bad decisions throwing the ball last season, he learned as the season went on, going 15-22 for 246 yards against Purdue – so there is something there. This summer and fall will be key for him to show his progression in reading defenses and making better decisions as a pure passer. 

If he can't look to Mitch Leidner to be an option. He's got a hell of an arm and some good size to him. However, I fully expect Nelson to win the job, mainly because the staff doesn't throw a freshman to the wolves like that without having faith in his abilities and in his potential. Expect him to be expected to be a game manager and a deep ball thrower more so than anything else to start the season.

Running Backs:

There should be hope for an offense that seriously lacked it at most stages last year because the focus will be on what looks to be a very solid rushing attack. Back is senior Donnell Kirkwood, the Kirkwood of nearly 1,000 yards and 6TD's fame of 2012. He's the perfect combo of size and speed that the power running attack can be built around to say the least. 

He also happens to have a very capable backup behind him in Rodrick Williams, a 235lbs. bruiser of a sophomore, who's rushing total of 261 yards a 2TD's all came in the final half of the season. Safe to say there is depth and options for the power running game to be on full display. 

Behind those two are some speed as well and don't be surprised to see the name Berkley Edwards pop up. He's an incoming freshman, but the 190lbs. back has potential to be a good scat-back combo to the thunder of Kirkwood and Williams. 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Now this is where things get a bit tricky and also a good reason why the offense is looking for a power rushing attack to take over this season. That's because there is literally jack and squat for proven and productive talent at this position group. The leading returning receiver is Isaac Fruechte who caught just 19 passes last season for all of 256 yards and 2TD's. 

Also back are Derrick Engel (18 rec, 375yds, 1TD), who can be a home run threat and a good compliment to keep teams honest against the running game (he did average 20.8 yards a catch last season after all) and Devin Crawford-Tufts (16 rec, 189yds, 1TD). However, the name that could emerge to have the biggest impact is just a freshman and that's Jamel Harbison. Harbison saw the field last year in the opener against UNLV, only to suffer a season ending injury and get a medical redshirt. Being a freshman wide receiver and getting playing time out the gate – either you are that good or this team needs you that bad and at Minnesota it's probably a combination of the two. 

As for the Tight End position the starter last season, Logan Pisek, is back and is a massive force at 265lbs, but he needs to show more in the receiving game to be a real weapon for this team. Losing John Rabe, a great goal line threat, hurts, but expect Drew Goodger (13rec, 115yds) to take over that role.

Offensive Line:

Welcome to the strength of this side of the ball and the unit that could and should help this team move up from ranking 10th in total offense (321.4yds/game), 9th in passing offense (169.5yds/game) and in scoring offense (22.1ppg) in the conference a season a go. About the only thing they did o.k. last season was run block for a unit that finished 7th in the Big Ten (151.9yds/game). 

That's because all five starters that ended the season as starters are back in the fold this year. That means solid anchor Ed Olson (LT), his brother Tommy Olson (LG), our No. 19 player in the Top 25 Players countdown Zac Epping (C), Caleb Bak (RG), and Josh Campion (RG) are all back together as a group. 

It also means there is depth as well and some quality depth at that. Overall it's hard to argue that this team won't go as far as this group takes them. 

Minnesota wants to become a power running team and some question that, but not those that have the five starters on that line play. They are mean, nasty, and will punch you in the mouth type players and last time I checked that's exactly what you needed out of an O-Line to become that type of an offense.

Questions still to be answered in fall camp:

– Can this massive offensive line pass protect for their QB's? 

– Will said QB (Nelson) have anyone capable of being a big play threat for him? 

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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