Scouting the Big Ten: Minnesota 

Scouting the Big Ten: Minnesota 

After playing in several minor bowl games the past two seasons, Minnesota hopes to take the next step in 2005. Possessing a lot of offensive firepower as well as defensive playmakers, there is plenty of talent on this roster to make the Gophers successful come September. Many of these same prospects will impact next April's draft.  

Only a junior, Laurence Maroney is already one of the highest rated running backs in the nation.  A patient ball carrier who waits for blocks to develop, Maroney is quick footed, slides off tackles yet works runs in the middle of the field, making defenders miss.  Possessing outstanding field vision and run instincts, he quickly cuts back against the grain then freezes opponents, leaving them grasping for air.  With the ability to double-cut in a single handoff Maroney runs with outstanding balance and body control.  Though deceptively strong on the college level, Maroney does not possess the classic size teams want in a feature ball carrier yet will be an early selection if he leaves for next April's draft. 

Receiver Jared Ellerson is well-sized to be a fourth wide out at the next level and displays a good head for the game.  Making the reception in stride, he adjusts to the errant throw or comes back to the quarterback and makes himself an available target.  Lacking the deep speed or second gear, Ellerson rarely defeats opponents in a foot race yet offers potential for the next level. 

Junior tight end Matt Spaeth is a developing prospect who must be watched.  Possessing good size, Spaeth is a solid pass catcher that quickly finds the open spot in the defense and catches the pass away from his frame.  A solid position blocker, he stands to improve his playing strength but has the tools to become a complete tight end. 

The Gophers have a pair of offensive lineman to watch, starting with center Greg Eslinger. An explosive blocker, Eslinger quickly gets off the snap and easily pulls across the line of scrimmage, displaying outstanding skills blocking on the move.  Intelligent, he remains alert throughout the action and works well with teammates.  And though Eslinger is a solid position blocker who walls defenders from the action, he is by no means a dominant lineman that opens holes in the middle the field.  Undersized and a prospect with growth limitations, Eslinger may the best suited for a system like the Denver Broncos which consistently uses linemen in motion. 

Guard Mark Setterstrom is quick off the snap and displays outstanding strength at the initial point of attack, getting movement from run blocks.  Unlike his linemate, Setterstrom is only effeective in a small area.

Defensively Minnesota has a trio of players to watch in the front seven.  Tackle Anthony Montgomery is a solid athlete with the ability to make plays in any direction.  Explosive in all his actions, Montgomery easily adjusts off the initial block, quickly gets back to playing form and redirects to the action.  Rarely off his feet, he displays a good head for the ball and is consistently around the action.  Though sized well, Montgomery must do a better job protecting himself and become better shedding blocks at the point.  The combination of athleticism, growth potential and the position he plays makes Montgomery a prime candidate to move up draft boards with a good senior campaign. 

Mark Losli is a another tackle who moves well laterally, making plays up and down the line of scrimmage.  Getting leverage on opponents, he plays with good balance, body control and stays on his feet.  Not explosive, Losli is easily handled at the point of attack and must improve his playing strength. 

Linebacker Kyle McKenzie is an explosive yet undersized defender who displays outstanding range and has the ability to make plays in any direction of the field.  Getting depth on pass drops, McKenzie shows outstanding speed and flashes on the scene.  Also instinctive, he has a good head for the ball and immediately diagnoses the action.  Small, McKenzie is engulfed by larger blockers and easily handled at the point.  A middle linebacker in the Gophers scheme, McKenzie is best suited for the weak side in the NFL and is presently a fringe first-day choice in next April's NFL Draft.

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