Brewster has lot of work to doTim Brewster is still talking big. He’s banking on an influx of heavily recruited freshmen and junior college transfers to back him up. After a 1-11 debut season — the only victory came over Miami of Ohio in three overtimes — Brewster has a lot of work to do.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tim Brewster is still talking big. He’s banking on an influx of heavily recruited freshmen and junior college transfers to back him up.
After a 1-11 debut season — the only victory came over Miami of Ohio in three overtimes — Brewster has a lot of work to do.
“It’s hard to be any worse than we were last year,” quarterback Adam Weber said. “We only can go up from there. We’re bringing in good talent, and we’ve got guys in the program now that are going to help us win.”
When Brewster took over the Minnesota program, he brought boldness and grandeur that was quite a contrast to what transpired on the field. The defense that previous coach Glen Mason was never able to sustain struggled to grasp the new system, and injuries to the handful of reliable upperclassmen made a bad situation worse.
As a result, the Gophers gave up more yards than any other team in the nation — all 119 of them in the NCAA’s first division — for an average of more than 518 per game.
The new spread scheme brought by offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar was even more complicated, and though Weber showed promise and poise he threw 19 interceptions in 12 games. The running backs couldn’t stay healthy, and Minnesota’s streak of eight straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher — in some of those years, they had two — ended abruptly.
But it’s August, and optimism abounds.
Especially for Brewster, who never misses an opportunity to pile on the positives.
“It’s a little bit more of a calm feeling,” he said last week, on the first day of fall practice. “I think I understand the job and exactly what it entails. I think we all understand each other, players and coaches, and so I think that’s the exciting thing for me. The reason why I feel really good and I feel calm is that these kids have worked so hard, and when you match hard work with talent good things are going to happen.”
Three noted recruiting analysis services ranked Brewster’s 2008 class between 17th and 28th in the nation. Twenty-one letter winners from last season, including nine who were in the starting lineup the majority of the year, are gone — including a handful of players who chose to transfer. The holdovers aren’t guaranteed places, either, a natural upheaval after such an unsuccessful season.
This has created quite the competition in practice this month as the Gophers gear up to face Northern Illinois on Aug. 30 to launch their last season at the Metrodome before moving back to campus at under-construction TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.
Brewster and his staff have clearly instructed the players to avoid mentioning specific goals or aspirations — such as a certain amount of wins or getting a bowl invite — beyond the current game. Each player was given a maroon wristband before practice began to remind him of that mandate.
“One play at a time. That’s what we’re saying,” defensive tackle Eric Small said, flashing a sly smile. “That’s all I can say.”
Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and linebacker Steve Davis, both senior captains, are perhaps the only starters sure to keep their spots. Nine of the 18 players on the two-deep lineup unveiled at the beginning of the month are new, and so is defensive coordinator Ted Roof — the fourth in four years.
Free safety Tramaine Brock and cornerback Traye Simmons are among four JC transfers.
“We needed to add more guys in the secondary, but we really think that we’ve created some competitive situations that are going to help us,” Brewster said.
The offense is even more unsettled, though Brewster predicted significant progress as players become more comfortable with Dunbar’s terminology and philosophy. Weber will miss Tony Brinkhaus, Matt DeGeest and Steve Shidell in front of him, and two redshirt freshmen — Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders — could be the starters on the right side of the line.
Standout wide receiver Eric Decker will need three true freshmen — Brandon Green, Brodrick Smith and Xzavian Brandon — to help distract defenses from double-teaming him. Prized all-purpose recruit David Pittman, who will be used to run, throw and catch, could play a prominent role. In the backfield, Duane Bennett and Jay Thomas will try to stay healthy for the entire season.
The ceiling is high, but it’s unclear how much the Gophers can advance with so many untested players. They’ll find out soon enough.
“We can’t walk in here feeling sorry for ourselves because we were 1-11 last year. We’re a brand-new team. We need swagger. We need to walk into that stadium knowing we’re going to win, knowing we’re going to be a tough team,” Small said.
Brewster has done his best to instill that attitude.
“You can hear him talk a lot and you can understand where he’s going, but it takes a little bit to really build into what he’s doing,” VanDeSteeg said. “Now I think it’s a lot easier for us because we know what he does. We know what he has to offer. We’re just excited to kind of see what he’s going to bring this year and how he’s going to keep going with us.”