Coaching Points: Minnesota 2015 Spring Game

Brian Ekart
Base Offense: 11 Personnel, mostly gun
Base Defense: 4-3 Over Cover 4 MOD

QB - Leidner looked solid solid in this game. He claimed that he was working on getting the ball out of his hands quicker, and you could tell he had improved on his rhythm throws. If it was his first read, his feet were solid, he had good, consistent mechanics, really pulled that forward shoulder through, and let the ball rip with good velocity (most of these throws to the sideline). I'd still like to see him improve his timing on second and third reads though. I'm not sure if it's footwork, not having great chemistry with some of the WR, or just not being as comfortable with the read yet, but it seemed each step in the progression he lost a "half-step" on his timing. That timing will become important when it's 3rd and 7 and he checks to the comeback route on the outside against tight coverage. He still needs to work on reading defenses between the hash marks and making smart throws late in the pocket. Some of his passes late were not pretty.

Nati Harnik / Associated Press
I was also pleasantly surprised with some of the backup QBs. Rhoda had some nice throws, though overall was a bit inconsistent, particularly with his mechanics. Streveler looks like an athlete back there. The Minnesota OL struggled a bit, and the defense blitzed a lot against Streveler, but Streveler showed off his wheels and made a couple nice passes. These QBs have work to do, but the future is promising.

RB - I didn't see the first drive featuring Williams, but from all accounts it was good. So I'll focus on the backups.

Aaron Lavinsky | StarTribune
I think Smith is currently further along than Edwards. Smith flashed some ability to put a foot in the ground and get vertical with good burst. He needs to be more consistent with his pad level, but he showed that he wants to finish runs and showed some vision.

Edwards still looks more like a space player to me. His vision between the tackles wasn't very good, several times running right into tackles from penetrating DL. He also doesn't finish runs well. A guy his size should have the leverage advantage on a lot of defenders, yet Edwards got tackled falling backwards most of the time. That won't cut it in Minnesota's offense.

WR - Not a ton to say here. Overall, they were a bit inconsistent on the day. I think they have some potential with some of the young guys though. Holland Jr ran some nice routes and looked like an athlete that could threaten the defense deep a bit. Gant is an athlete, although he struggled catching the ball in this game, dropping a few passes that hit him right in the numbers; he's young and also needs to refine his route running more. Maye (a proven WR), Carter, and Conway all made nice catches or ran solid routes. I'd still like to see someone step up in the group a little more though, and be more than just a solid compliment to the offense.

Brian Ekart
And it's kind of obvious that Minnesota wants Jeff Jones to be that guy. Good in space, he's still getting used to the WR position. Still raw in his route running and he did drop a catchable ball, but he brings and element to the offense that no one else has the past few years (even Edwards on the outside was more of a scat player, whereas Jones can scat a bit but also run with some power). It'll be interesting how Minnesota utilizes him throughout the season, he's an athlete that can stress defenses a lot, and his ability to spread defenses laterally should prove to be a valuable part of the offense.

OL - Minnesota replaces two vastly underrated interior OL (Olson and Epping) and they still look like they are trying to find some pieces. It wasn't clear to me if the OL was split or how teams were worked out (and it was hard to identify the players from film), but there were some clear communication issues on the OL, particularly on stunts and blitzes. Lauer doesn't yet look read to play on the outside (Minnesota returns both OTs, but there may be some swapping of positions along the OL), as he really struggled with his feet in this one. Lots of leaning and lots of reaching, not enough moving to get in front of his target. Even a returning guy like Campion had some footwork issues and lost the hands battle.

Last year, this was an offense that relied heavily on the run and heavy run action to help protect the passer. I think they want to be a little more balanced this year, as it's very difficult to replace a back like Cobb. There were instances when the run game got going, and you saw the clean pocket form when they went to pass, but when the defense was comfortable that the play call was a pass, or the defense could blitz, then the OL had issues. I think that's really going to need to be cleaned up for this offense to function at the level it did last year.

DL - You know what you're getting from Cockran, so Minnesota should be good with him. Keith, Epke, and Gilmore all flashed a little bit, though need to be a bit cleaner with their moves and a little more violent with their hands at the point of attack. But between those four, they should have at worst a solid rotation across from Cockran.

At the interior positions, it was Richardson that stuck out the most. He was quick and active, gets penetration, and understands where to take his eyes with regards to finding the ball carrier and making a play on the ball. He should really help out his second level players. The DT that stood out to me the most besides Richardson, was Timms. Timms was a little bit inconsistent, he had some struggles holding up to a couple doubles, but also had several instances where he played them great. I don't think he's a difference maker, but I think if he improves his consistency, then he'll be a guy you can rely on to do his job. Stelter and Ndondo-Lay are other options, and each flashed a couple times holding up well at the point of attack, but they didn't flash some of the upside I saw from Timms.

LB - I really like some of the young LBs Minnesota has. They are a bit undersized yet, but you see some potential in them. The one that stood out to me the most was Poock. Poock was constantly around the ball. He picked through the wash well, he had little wasted movement, he stepped up into holes and filled at the LOS, and best of all, he tackled very well, very fundamentally sound. Huff (didn't realize until after that there were two Huffs; but I think the plays being made were Julian and not Jacob for the most part) was another guy that flashed a bit in both ways. Huff looks like a straight line player and struggles a little bit when forced to move laterally or break down in space. But he has very quick reactions and diagnoses plays quickly. He's helped at the OLB position in the 4-3 Over scheme, and is a guy that I think can have a role in this defense, though isn't ready to be an every down player yet.

Obviously you still have Campbell, who was solid last year, along with Lynn, who flashes some ability on the edge as well. Celestin is another guy that could have a rotational role this year as well.

DB - The starters are going to be solid, but I didn't see much from them (Murray, Bobby-Calhaun were one of the better pairs of CBs in the B1G last year along with Wells, who is now gone; and Travis returns at Safety), but the depth here is still very raw. Minnesota seemed to be playing a soft Cover 4, but Parks (a converted RB) and Myrick both played too soft too often. Myrick I think was ahead of the two (Parks got picked on), and was better at recognizing concepts at this stage (he did really well to jump an out route), but the depth behind the starters needs to improve at CB.

Brian Ekart
Safety had some young guys that looked solid. Ayinde is a guy I think has high upside and just needs more reps and needs to get more comfortable with the defense. McGhee was another guy that seemed to find a way to the ball a lot of the time. Minnesota also has some good looking recruits coming in a the DB position, so they have some options back there.

Overall - I'm seeing more speed throughout Minnesota's team recently, particularly on defense. I think the DL and LBs all looked faster than I remembered them, which bodes well for a defense that was underrated last year. On offense, they need improvement from their OL (from the spring game, they were a solid group last year) and I think they still need someone to step up on the outside. They have a lot of complements at the skill positions, but they need someone they can lean on a bit more.

Raw Notes
*Didn't see first drive featuring Williams.

Huff (OLB) looks very quick in space. Diagnosis the play very quickly and runs almost like a safety to the ball. Good straight line speed and good burst off his initial step.

Really poor job of the LT and LG communicating here. A simple loop stunt with the MIKE hitting the C gap gets essentially two guys in free (the LT gets beat cleanly inside). Nice job to dump the pass off. I like how Poock is able to wrap up in space, a really nice job bringing his arms to the tackle to finish the play.

Lauer really struggling at the LT spot in pass pro. Both tackles here reach instead of getting set with their feet. Stelter (DE) gets a very good jump off the edge, but you'd like him to get a little more narrow with his shoulder and really dip that inside shoulder so the LT can't attempt to push him wide. Would like Leidner to step up and into this pocket sooner, he gets whistled sacked.

Nice route by Holland Jr (WR). Settles been then works back to the ball, catches it with his hands, and works to pick up the first down. Good rhythm from Leidner.

Timms (DT) gets owned by the C/RG combo on an inside zone play and gets completed pushed out of his gap and into the MIKE's gap. This allows for a clear cutback for Smith, who takes it. Very quick to put a foot in the ground and get vertical. This play breaks because the safety (Ayinde) coming down into the box takes too many false steps and sets himself up for the TE to block him, and the SAM (Campbell) is late reacting and squeezing the hole down. Two backside defenders late with their assignment and Smith (RB) looks good getting vertical. Like how he lowers the shoulder and finishes the run.

Smith here is too passive with his footwork and doesn't pick up his feet through the hole. The OL does a nice job forming a wide hole on the playside, but the NT (Richardson) can trip him up.

Holland gets separation as the CB (Parks) is playing way too soft. Holland is very slow getting out of his break though, too much wasted movement at the top of his route and too long to get into his out. This causes Streveler to miss on his throw.

Ekpe and Timms hold up on their double teams and let the LBs crash down on the 4th down stop. Huff helps out cleaning up, but it all starts on the interior, the two DTs not letting the OL gets good push.

Poock again comes down hard and wraps up at the point of attack. Fills his gap well and lets Edwards (RB) do nothing.

Nice job by Lynn (LB) on his drop to really get into Leidner's throwing window. Looks like he tips this pass and that's why it's so far behind the TE breaking on the corner route. Would like to see the ball out a little sooner with a little more air under it though. Edwards needs to do more with his fake, bailed on it too soon and too obviously to get into pass pro.

Rhoda (QB) does a nice job stepping up in the pocket and scrambling. OL does a nice job getting the DL out of the rush lanes and wide.

Gant needs to sell vertical much better here on the tunnel screen. Need to help the TE out a little bit trying to get out and seal the support defender. Instead, the CB can just break forward immediately and delay the play in time for help to arrive.

Jeff Jones (WR) drops one right in the hands. Good pass (Rhonda) on the out cut.

Richardson does a really nice job winning his helmet across the face of the OL, getting narrow, and then pushing into the backfield and making a play. I'd like to see Smith (RB) bounce this sooner and get out of Richardson's grasp, but nice play by the DT.

Leidner does a good job here, and it starts with his mechanics. Clean pocket to step into, and you see Leidner get his shoulder to the target and rip it open, allowing him to get good spin on the ball and good velocity. This was a multiple progression read. I'd like to see the ball get out a half step sooner still, but perfect ball placement. Nice catch by Carter (WR).

Jones makes the catch on a tight pass from Leidner. Edge pressure gets home quick and Leidner is forced to throw hot. Safety has outside technique on Jones, you'd like to see Minnesota develop and option route here where Jones can go inside, as it's wide open for a slant. But McGhee (S) does well to come down and minimize the gain; needs to get his helmet in front of the player though, tackling way too high.

Edwards needs to understand when to leave his feet. He jumps a DE trying to get into his feet, but as soon as he leaves his feet, rather than high stepping, he meets a LB filling the hole he's jumping into, and is knocked back clean for no gain.

Myrick (CB) playing very soft on the outside. Minnesota allowing a lot of comeback routes. This ball is thrown with good velocity again by Leinder, and it's on time. Nice route by Maye here to stem the defender and threaten vertical before settling beyond the first down mark.

Stelter has a nice rip move, but you have a RT and RG in slide protection that easily let a guy split them. Pass pro has been an issue today so far, and if Minnesota wants to be more balanced and rely less on play action to help out pass pro, the OL needs to step up. Lauer still struggling at LT, doing lots of reaching. Needs to get cleaner with his feet and not lean so much.

Poor feet by Campion (RG) here, who is running inside zone but lets the DE stunt from outside the RT to inside the RG. But Campion's feet here on in cement and don't keep moving; instead he freezes, and Keith can shoot the gap and get right into Edwards for a TFL. Like how Keith dipped his shoulder though and really got down the LOS to make a play on the RB before he could bounce it.

Really poor angle by Huff here, and you start to see some of his limitations. He's a straight line player that doesn't break down very well in space. Slow breaking outside, poor angle to the ball carrier, can't catch up to Streveler (QB) who admittedly has some nice wheels as even DBs (Starks) can't keep up.

Celestin (LB) and Poock in on the tackle. Poock does a really nice job picking through the wash and again, I want to emphasize how well he wraps. Gets low on his tackles and wraps up, very fundamentally sound.

Wipson allows OL to get too far into his body, but rips off of him (OL needs to do better once completely engaged with the LB). Fights back to ball and assists on tackle. Nice job by Johnson sliding into the gap, maintaining the proper pursuit angle, and not letting the ball carrier get outside. That mitigated this from being a nice gain.

Rhoda doesn't quite get his feet set off his drop and that messes some of his weight transfer going forward, thus a bit of a high throw. Nice catch by Conway though.

Ayinde (S) recognizes bubble screen immediately and has no false steps as he breaks forward. He kills the play immediately.

Edwards shows some shiftiness, breaks through he LOS and gets into space. Right now, much more of a space runner, they need to get him there as he isn't as confident between the tackles. Nice tackle by McGhee though. For how short Edwards is, I haven't seen him fall forward once yet...

Myrick recognizes the out and jumps it instantly. He gets a little flat footed, which will put him a bit in no man's land on a pump and go, but once he decides to break he does well. This is the design of Minnesota's off Cover 4 though, it's designed to be able to break on these routes. That sort of thing needs to become more consistent.

Lot's of blitzing on Streveler. He gets the ball out, this time to the boundary WR as the BCB is coming off the edge. Would like the ball out a little sooner and so the WR doesn't have to work back to it, that would allow for more YAC than what we saw.

Really nice play by Stelter (DE) who comes in low off the edge and can bring down the ball carrier from the backside. Has really long length, Edwards again can't break the tackle.

Nice job by Elmore (DE) to wrong arm the trapping OG on the counter play. This picks off both pullers in the hole. This is huge because no one else did a very good job here. The DTs got sealed and the LBs were late coming down and got picked off in the second level.

Nice job by Dixon (LB) to come up and make a play on the leaking FB off play action. Gets helmet in front and sticks the FB, not letting him get anything.

Another nice play by Elmore and Ndondo-Lay (DT) to stuff the point of attack. Pirsig needs to do better on his down block, as he is late getting out of his stance and gets beat inside. DL is lower than him and pushes him back, and that doesn't allow the pulling OG (power O) to clear him and get to the second level.

No one gets even a hand on Richardson, who slants inside and then works immediately back to the ball carrier. Looks like the OL was confused, with half blocking left and half blocking right zone.

Huff breaks well to the outside and wraps while the Parks cleans up.

Very nice play to go up between defenders by Smith. Rogers (S) needs to do a lot better here. He locates the ball, he's in position, but awkwardly goes for the two handed upper body push rather than going for the INT, PBU, or the ball in some way. It's "going for the big hit" without hitting someone instead.

James (CB) reads through the #2 and gets lead straight to the ball, with a great break on the slot to the field running and out and James coming down and laying a nice, sound, hit on the WR to break up the pass. But it all comes from his eyes.

Gant wide open on the post. Dropped, ball hit him right in the hands. Perfect throw by Streveler.

OL again struggling with feet. Hands aren't great either, but not staying in front of targets.


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