Gophers spring football practice puts emphasis on improving passing game

The Gophers passing game of 2021 isn’t something those associated with the program will recall fondly. The team passed for an average of 162.0 yards per game, which ranked 118th among the 130 FBS programs. Minnesota’s total number of passes – 257 – were ahead of only Army, Air Force and Navy, service academies that use run-based option offenses.

To fix the passing game, coach PJ Fleck rehired Kirk Ciarrocca, his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2017-19, to run the offense. Through two weeks of spring practice, going back for the future is feeling comfortable for some key offensive figures.

“I’m incredibly thankful to have him back here, pushing us every day to get better,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said after Saturday’s practice.

Added wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell: “It’s like he’s never left. He’s still the same ‘Roc.’ The guy’s going to get to know you, push you every day and challenge you. That’s the guy we need in this program. ”

While hope springs eternal during spring drills for college football teams, both Morgan and Autman-Bell stressed Ciarrocca’s detail-oriented approach that they believe will pay off in the fall. Precise routes. Correct spacing. Confidence through repetition. Film sessions with Ciarrocca, Morgan said, are remarkable in their thoroughness.

“It’s incredibly detailed,” Morgan said. “Everything is going to be pointed out. You’re going to be looking at not just the result of the play, but asking, ‘Why did you do this, why that safety did this, what coverage was it?’ ”

Ciarrocca, an offensive analyst for West Virginia last season, broke down film on the 2021 Gophers and concluded that the issues didn’t fall only on Morgan, who completed 60% of his passes for 2,044 yards and 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions in 2021.

“We’re going to throw the ball better, and everybody’s got to get better because everybody contributes to the success,” Ciarrocca said Tuesday. “That’s the great thing about football. On offense, we need 11 guys playing together play after play after play and executing in order for it to look pretty. ”

Morgan, a sixth-year senior, had a career year as a sophomore in 2019 when he passed for single-season school records of 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns in an 11-2 season. While Morgan might not have the same weapons that he did in 2019 with future NFL receivers like Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, Ciarrocca sees plenty with which to work from his quarterback.

“The biggest thing for me is just reminding myself of what are his strengths and what are his weaknesses,” Ciarrocca said. “So, in spring ball, I tried to erase what I knew about him in 2019 and said, ‘OK. , I’m gonna start over again, ‘and just try to get a feel for what he does.’ ‘

Autman-Bell, the Gophers’ leading returning receiver with 114 catches for 1,756 yards and 12 TDs, sees a coordinator who’s not afraid to be aggressive.

“We’re just attacking more, taking shots,” Autman-Bell said. “We have guys who can make those plays down the field and be explosive. Coach Ciarrocca is putting that faith in us, and stressing to make these plays, and we’re doing it every day in practice. ”

Georgia prep CB commits

The Gophers on Friday night received a verbal commitment from Zaquan Bryan, a cornerback from Benedictine Military School in Savannah, Ga., For their recruiting Class of 2023. Bryan, 5-11 and 180 pounds, is a three-star recruit according to the 247Sports’ composite of major national recruiting services.

Bryan chose the Gophers over eight other FBS schools that had offered him a scholarship, including North Carolina, Coastal Carolina and Army. He is the 46th-ranked recruit in Georgia and the 52nd-ranked cornerback nationally by 247Sports in the 2023 class. Bryan helped Benedictine win the Class 4A state championship, catching 10 passes for 121 yards and two TDs in the final.

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