Spring practice signals takeover for Claeys at Minnesota

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — The takeover at Minnesota by new head coach Tracy Claeys has begun in earnest.

Time for spring practice. Time to get the Gophers going again, after an unsatisfying 6-7 season.

“I realize that now the buck stops with me on decisions and things like that,” Claeys said Monday. “We talked about moving people around and all that type of stuff. Before I could make suggestions, and now it’s got to be the final decision when you do things like that.”

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Claeys was an assistant under head coach Jerry Kill for 21 years, including 17 as defensive coordinator, so the program won’t undergo significant renovations.

Kill, who announced his retirement midseason because of the difficulty managing his epilepsy, speaks weekly with Claeys.

Claeys, however, has already put his stamp on the Gophers. He let two key assistants go, including longtime offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Jay Johnson replaced him, and Claeys will spend the majority of his time with the offense to ensure smooth communication.

Johnson kept some of the same terminology for the playbook, but “probably 85 percent” of it will be new, Claeys said.

The other two priorities for the offense this spring are to establish a starting five up front and a backup for quarterback Mitch Leidner. The offensive line was a problem last season, when the Gophers averaged 22.5 points per game, 106th out of 127 teams in the FBS.

Leidner won’t participate this spring in the 15-practice session, which culminates April 9 with the intrasquad game at TCF Bank Stadium. The senior had surgery Dec. 30 on his left foot, two days after the Quick Lane Bowl victory over Central Michigan. The procedure required a four-month recovery. Claeys said Leidner was progressing “really well.”

“He’ll be mad at me all spring because he thinks he’s able to do more,” Claeys said. “He’s getting along that good and moving around, but we’re not going to take any chances with him.”

Sophomore Demry Croft has the inside track to be Leidner’s backup, with freshmen Seth Green and Mark Williams in the mix.

Chris Streveler has been moved to wide receiver.

“The kid works hard and is a good athlete and loves the game of football,” Claeys said. “I think we can find a place for him.”

With the departure of punter Peter Mortell, kicker Ryan Santoso could be asked to take on both roles. The other punters on the roster are freshman Jacob Herbers and sophomore Logan McElfresh.

“We’ll try and find separate duties. Because if that was the right way to do it, common, you’d see a lot of people doing it. You just don’t see it very much,” Claeys said. “But if that’s the best option to get it done, then that’s what we’ll do.”