The fourth of ten Gopher Goals, which are factors of success for turning the Minnesota Gophers football program around, is run the ball consistently.
Running the ball is a focal point for Coach Jerry Kill, who stated he will instill two main philosophies in this program: running the football and not turning the ball over.
Kill has a history of running the football. Since 2004 when New York Giants bruiser Brandon Jacobs was Kill’s starting running back at Southern Illinois, Kill’s top three rushers have averaged 2,160 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns per season. The Gophers haven’t rushed for 2,000 yards in a season since 2006…and that was as a team.
I personally believe Kill will have no problem accomplishing this goal. The Gophers have four running backs who, when healthy, are all capable of handling the load. Kill said he will use all four running backs this season.
Here’s a look at the running backs who will likely all see action this fall.
- Duane Bennett- Redshirt Senior, 5-9, 210 lbs. Bennett will get the bulk of the carries this year provided he is effective. He is a great lateral runner and makes quick cuts to open holes. Tough runner who will hit defenders head-on while keeping his legs moving. He led the running backs last year with a 4.3 yard per carry average. Bennett is the most experienced Gophers running back and is a very underrated receiver. Look for him to be lined up in the slot at times to utilize his hands. His patience works wonders on screen passes and draws. Bennett is a leader on offense and will work hard to make sure his senior season is his most productive.
- DeLeon Eskridge- Senior, 5-11, 203 lbs. More of a downhill runner. Good speed. Like Bennett, he is a workhorse. Eskridge led the Gophers rushing attack in 2010 with 698 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been the leading rusher for Minnesota two of the past three years and has recorded 17 touchdowns since his freshman year in 2008. Eskridge was the main compliment to Bennett during spring practices and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him split carries to keep both running backs fresh.
- Donnell Kirkwood- Redshirt Freshman, 5-10, 215 lbs. Explosive runner who was the most impressive at the Gophers spring game. Kirkwood packs a punch with he runs the ball and has tremendous acceleration. He has breakaway speed and drives his legs through contact. He hits the hole with authority. If it weren’t for a leg injury last year Kirkwood would have been a large part of the Gophers running attack. ESPN describes him as a “future workhorse.” He should receive a generous amount of carries this year and if the two seniors struggle he could challenge Bennett and Eskridge for playing time.
- Lamonte Edwards- Redshirt Freshman,6-2, 210 lbs. Edwards is a large, tough running back who looks eerily similar to Adrian Peterson when running the football (he even wore #28 at Woodbury, MN). He uses his size to plow over smaller defenders and is a great blocker. Edwards has incredible agility, speed, acceleration, hands, and strength for his size. He was the most impressive back during spring practices before getting injured. He should be healthy come fall and I would be shocked if he isn’t given a considerable amount of carries this year. If healthy, Edwards looks as though he could be the future starter for the Gophers. Check out this YouTube video.
Devon Wright-6 foot, 190 lbs. Redshirt freshman from Coral Springs, Florida. Wright could also be in the mix. He is a very durable runner with good speed and receiver-like hands, which could come into play with limited talent at receiver this year.
Also, lets not forget about arguably the most dangerous rusher on this team, quarterback Marqueis Gray. Kill’s offense relies on a mobile quarterback to rush the ball if he is being pressured. The offense also runs a number of quarterback options and draw-options. Gray will fit that role nicely. His scrambling ability and athleticism alone could win the Gophers a couple games this year.
Not to be overlooked is where it all starts. The running game is nothing without the offensive line. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has already proclaimed senior linemen Ryan Orton (right guard), Chris Bunders (left guard), and Ryan Wynn (center) starters. Sophomore Ed Olson (6-7, 302 lb. left tackle) and redshirt freshman Jimmy Gjere (6-7, 308 lb. right tackle) earned their respective positions this spring and it appears their roles will be theirs to lose.
Additionally, to help a rushing attack that was out-gained by nearly 700 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, Kill signed some big offensive lineman in this year’s recruiting class:
- Josh Campion (6-5, 304 lbs.) of Fergus Falls, MN.
- Foster Bush (6-5, 270) of Menasha, WI.
- Kyle McAvoy (6-5, 293) of Bloomington, IL.
- Luke McAvoy (6-5, 278) of Bloomington, IL. Yes, they’re brothers. Twins actually.
- Tommy Olson (6-4, 275) of Mahtomedi, MN.
The Gophers may have some weaknesses, but not in the running department. With Kill’s history of success running the football, a stacked core of running backs, an agile quarterback, a veteran presence on the inside of the line, and a former offensive line coach coordinating the offense, I foresee no issues with the Gophers being able to run the ball consistently this year.