Gophers will have clear identity on offense

This spring, Minnesota players will be in the all too familiar position of learning a new offense.

Gophers seniors will adjust to their fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. They've already run the spread, the pro-style and pretty much everything in between, but spring ball will bring new plays, new formations and new expectations.

Here's the good news: Minnesota's newest offense is a keeper.

"This isn't going to change from year to year, and the kids are excited about that," Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover told me Wednesday. "We will talk to them constantly about laying a foundation. What we do the first day of spring are things that hopefully we're running on New Year's Day in a bowl game.

"We don't just say, 'Whichever way the wind blows, let's run that.' We do have that system that we've worked on and had some success with, and the kids have picked up on that."

Limegrover acknowledges he and the other coaches must sell their system to the players they're inheriting, but it shouldn't be too difficult. They could simply pop in a tape from Northern Illinois' 2010 season.

The Gophers' running backs will see Chad Spann, the Mid-American Conference MVP, scooting across the field for big gains en route to 1,388 rush yards and 22 touchdowns. The receivers will see multiple players involved in a pass attack that stretched the field at times. MarQueis Gray and the other quarterbacks will watch Northern Illinois star Chandler Harnish abuse defenses with both his arm and his feet. Minnesota's offensive linemen will see a unit that powered its way to 260.4 rush yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry.

Limegrover is quick to point out that Northern Illinois' 2010 offense featured veteran players who had spent years mastering the system. But Minnesota players can start the learning process without worrying about more changes.

"We're not going to come with something new every year," Limegrover said. "You learn it. Now we're going to build on it. That's something I've been telling the guys till I'm blue in the face."

Limegrover said a lot of people try to characterize the offense as a spread or a pro-I, but the system is multifaceted and has a lot going on before the snap. Minnesota will show a defense several formations and personnel groupings before the snap, and the offense puts pressure on the quarterback to make the correct checks.

But once the play starts, the Gophers will keep it simple.

"I can't stress enough that the best thing you can do is have your kids feel good about what they're going to do on a post-snap basis," Limegrover said. "Then they're going to be aggressive, they're going to execute. If they're not sure because the picture's changing on them a lot, then that's when you've got trouble.

"We'll do everything we can to try to gain leverage advantages, numbers advantages and personnel advantages pre-snap, but once that ball is snapped, we're pretty basic."