Cupito, 'U' prepare for transition on offense
By Dave Campbell AP Sports Writer MINNEAPOLIS -- Bryan Cupito has been the quarterback of a run-first team for the past two seasons. This will probably be his year to air it out. "It's all him and us this year," said receiver Logan Payne. "We're ...
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Bryan Cupito has been the quarterback of a run-first team for the past two seasons. This will probably be his year to air it out.
"It's all him and us this year," said receiver Logan Payne. "We're looking forward to the challenge."
That was an overstatement of sorts, because as long as the current coaching staff is in place at Minnesota the Gophers will always be committed to establishing their ground game.
But this year, it's not going to be as easy after losing two 1,000-yard rushers and two All-American offensive linemen. In spring practice, Cupito found passing plays called 60 percent of the time. In the past, Minnesota ran the ball at that ratio.
"We haven't utilized our passing game as much as we could have because we've run the ball so effectively," coach Glen Mason said Friday, the first day of fall practice. "When I look at us right now I'm a little uncertain about the running back position, but I'm confident in our quarterback and the decisions he'll make."
Cupito, entering his third season as a starter, has a chance to leave the school at or near the top of the list in all the major statistical categories for passing -- despite being overshadowed by running backs Laurence Maroney, Gary Russell and Marion Barber. The Gophers set an NCAA record with two 1,000-yard rushers in each of the last two seasons.
Though Cupito has had some forgettable games, he has certainly been an efficient leader. He has thrown only 16 interceptions against 33 touchdowns over the past two years.
"I just try to do my thing when I can," Cupito said. "I understand that I'm not a better football player than Marion Barber or Laurence Maroney. I understand that when those guys are your best players, you've got to utilize them as best you can."
Payne and Ernie Wheelwright are the top two receivers, with tight end Matt Spaeth also a key target. Amir Pinnix tops the depth chart at tailback, but he missed some spring practices with an ankle injury. After him, junior college transfer Brylee Callender (a former prep star at Lakeville) and freshman Jay Thomas (a Tartan High School standout who redshirted last season) are without any Big Ten experience. Maroney, who left a year early for the NFL, and Russell, who didn't meet academic standards and is no longer in school, have left a big void.
The other hurdle Minnesota's offense must overcome is the loss of center Greg Eslinger and guard Mark Setterstrom, both of whom were four-year starters. Tony Brinkhaus has moved from tackle to center, and fifth-year senior Tyson Swaggert, Eslinger's backup, has switched to left guard.
"I don't think you'll find one guy on our offensive unit who doesn't have faith in our line right now," Brinkhaus said. "We're looking to keep the tradition going."
Russell was barely mentioned Friday, but Mason did field several questions about his departure earlier in the week at the annual gathering of media covering the conference.
"In all due respect, Gary Russell is not going to be on our football team, and I don't think it's fair for the guys who are playing for me to keep looking backwards and keep talking about Gary Russell," Mason said.
The story, instead, is about Cupito and the potential for the passing game.
"We're going to have to be a little more wide open than that, but we'll be all right. ... Bryan Cupito is more capable than anybody we've had around here to run our offense," Mason said.