Kill to check out position switches at spring game
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jerry Kill spent his first spring as coach at Minnesota trying to teach his offense and defense to a completely new set of players.
He's spending part of his second spring with the Golden Gophers trying to make sure all those players are in the right positions. Kill has asked several players to switch positions this season, hoping to maximize the talent he has, and the playing time for several players who haven't been able to find much of the field early in their college careers.
Among those who are making a move include Moses Alipate, a quarterback who is now playing tight end. James Manuel has been moved from safety to linebacker and running back Lamonte Edwards is now playing linebacker.
For Alipate, a highly touted quarterback at Bloomington Jefferson High School who appeared to be in position to get some playing time under center for the Gophers early in his college career, it's been quite a transition. At 6 feet 5, 290 pounds, he is a natural athlete who is trying to get more acclimated to the physical nature of tight end.
"As a quarterback you want to get away from the defense. Here, I'm trying to butt heads with them," Alipate said. "I'm trying to get into the middle of the dog pile."
Kill gets a chance to see how the transition is going on Saturday when the Gophers hold their spring game.
"The kids that have moved, it's all been beneficial for them," Kill said. "Sometimes it's not so beneficial. ... They just need to learn what to do. A lot of them are processing right now. Then when two-a-day camp comes, they should be a lot farther along. All the moves to this point been best for our kids and our team."
A couple of players are making the significant move from one side of the ball to the other. Kendall Gregory-McGhee has moved from defensive line to tight end and former running back Edwards is continuing a transition to linebacker that started in the middle of last season.
"It's a lot easier, because being switched right in the middle of the season, you've got to pick up on everything," Edwards said. "But everything I learned there is pretty much transferring now, so I can grasp the concepts of playing linebacker."
Alipate was a step ahead thanks to his experience at quarterback in Kill's first season last year. With young quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell on the roster, the coaching staff first approached Alipate about changing positions last season. He resisted, hoping to earn his way on to the field. When that didn't happen in 2011, he decided to make the switch this spring.
"It was definitely something different, but if you love the game of football you're willing to help out your team no matter what position it is," he said.
Alipate ran the offense in practice last season, so he was familiar with what was required of his tight ends.
"Definitely having a feel of the offense, playing quarterback last year I got to know everybody's position and everybody's responsibilities," Alipate said. "The biggest thing the coaches stress to me is play more physical. That's something that I have to continue to work on this spring."
Edwards hasn't had the same type of difficulty. A physical, 6-foot-2, 210-pound runner out of the St. Paul suburb of Woodbury, Edwards has found the increased opportunities for collision a welcome plus now that he is trying to take down runners in the open field rather than make people miss.
"Since we've been having captain's practice over winter training, I've got the gist of all the play calls and everything," Edwards said.
It's taking some patience, both from the players and the coaches. The players can get frustrated by not feeling comfortable in a new setting and the coaches have to resist the urge to chastise them for making elementary mistakes.
"You just let them play during spring ball because they have to get comfortable," Kill said. "They are learning a whole different world. So you can't go, `Well, this kid is not going to play,' because you don't know."
Getting to play in a game situation on Saturday will give the players a sense of how far they've come, and how much they still have to learn before the season begins in the fall.
"We've had some scrimmage situations and the first couple of times I was a little nervous," Alipate said. "In the huddle, Max looked at me and said, `Are you ready for this?'
"I said, `We'll see.'"
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Updated April 21, 2012