College football: Healthier Gophers regaining their legs
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- When Mitch Leidner took off on an 85-yard run during a two-minute drill in practice last week, his University of Minnesota teammates hollered from the sidelines, "Mitch can still run! The f...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - When Mitch Leidner took off on an 85-yard run during a two-minute drill in practice last week, his University of Minnesota teammates hollered from the sidelines, “Mitch can still run! The freight train is coming!”
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound quarterback appears to be running like his former self after a beneficial bye week for the Gophers (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten), who are back in action Saturday against Northwestern (3-2, 2-0) at TCF Bank Stadium.
Leidner isn’t the only ailing Gopher feeling better after an extra week of rest and recuperation.
“It just kind of came at the perfect time, when everyone was getting a little worn down,” tight end Maxx Williams said. ‘It just kind of gave us that week to get our legs back feeling healthy - and now really set our sights on Northwestern.”
Entering Big Ten play, both Leidner (turf toe) and Williams (calf) were questionable, and several others were playing hurt. All played well in a 30-14 victory at Michigan on Sept. 27 that brought the Little Brown Jug back to Minnesota for the first time since 2005.
But Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he sat 12 to 13 players out of practice last week during the bye.
That included running back David Cobb, who rushed for 183 yards against the Wolverines, his second 30-plus carry game of the season. Cobb was held out of practice until Sunday to rest his body.
“David Cobb was beat up pretty good, (and the time off gave) him a chance to get healthy,” Kill said during his Tuesday news conference. “Sunday was a different day (for the) offensive line. I think we had three offensive guards not practice ... actually four. So for different reasons, we’re hoping we get two of the four ready to go, and hopefully they will be back to work today.”
Starting senior left guard Zac Epping, who has started 38 consecutive games, continues to play with a high ankle sprain, an injury that might take three to four weeks to fully heal, Kill said.
“It’s been slow,” Kill said. “But he’s a tough ol’ kid. I think everybody knows that; that’s kind of his reputation. (Last week), it certainly helped him. He’s going to try to practice today a little bit, but we’ll be sure to be careful.”
Williams seemed to be fine after making four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown against Michigan. But the team’s leading receiver was limited in most of the practices leading up to that game. That isn’t the case now.
“I feel 100 percent great,” Williams said. “This is the best I’ve felt since summer.”
Leidner said during the bye week that he would keep wearing a knee brace because of his sprained medial collateral ligament. But his knee wasn’t bothering him as much as his toe.
It didn’t show during that long run in practice last week. And Leidner was moving better against Michigan, even scoring on a 10-yard quarterback bootleg.
“It felt good to get running again,” he said, “get moving a little bit out there, taking a little hit in the end zone.”
Not everyone is ready to go, though. The defense might still be without starting cornerback Derrick Wells, who was sidelined during the Michigan game with a hamstring injury.
Kill couldn’t afford many more injuries on the defensive line after losing nose tackle Scott Ekpe for the season with a knee injury. Defensive end Alex Keith returned to the mix against Michigan after missing three games with a knee injury.
Kill said the entire team practiced with more of a bounce in its step last week - and not just because it finally regained the jug from the Wolverines.
“We practiced faster, more like we were earlier in the year, but I think that’s because of the off week,” he said. “I think some of them got their legs back underneath them, and we practiced at a speed I would like to see us practice at … I think we played fast at Michigan. But we can play faster.”
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