Mason Shocks Media Day Crowd with Daniels Announcement

Minnesota and Virginia battle in the 2005 Music City Bowl University of Minnesota head football coach Glen Mason held a press conference as part of football media day, an affair that officially kicked off the 2006 Golden Gopher football season.

These events usually don’t produce news of a startling nature, but Mason went against form with the surprise announcement that Alex Daniels was being shifted from defense to offense. The 6-3, 260-pound Daniels was generally judged to be the best defensive player on the squad and was penciled in at middle linebacker before breaking an arm in spring practice. Now, instead being stationed at the middle linebacker position, Daniels is slated to join Amir Pinnix, Justin Valentine, Jay Thomas, and Brylee Calendar in the running back corps, a group previously weakened by the losses of Laurence Maroney (to the National Football Lague) and Gary Russell (ineligibility). Mason said he was placing Daniels where he can best “utilize his talent,” but indications were that the venerable Gopher coach felt insecure about the running game, long a Gopher strength. In fact, the coach showed he’s willing to sacrifice defense (never a Mason strong point) to maintain his traditional ball-control offensive style. Thus, he robs Peter (defense) to pay Paul (offense).

“I start every year talking about how special college football is for me personally,” Mason said. “I had a great summer and enjoyed myself more this past summer than I have in awhile. In fact, with about a week and a half to go before camp, I found myself not wanting the summer to end. I was worried about that because if you don’t have the right enthusiasm to enter this thing, there is something wrong. But, during the last weekend, I found I couldn’t wait for summer to be over with so we could get onto football. I love this time of year and the start of two-a-day practices is probably the most important,” Mason said.

The first day of practice began with 102 players reporting to the Gopher training camp, 71 of them being upperclassmen, 28 freshmen, and three transfers.

Notably missing were underclassmen Mark Mullaney, Nhemie Theodore, Brian Moss, Pat McCarthy, Jason Lamers, Josh Wiltsie, James Tindall, and Marcel Jones. Each, for various reasons, opted not to be a Gopher footballer in 2006

“I always get asked about position changes,” said Mason. “Typically this time of year there aren’t many, but there are two that I will mention. Freshman D.J. Burris is a player we recruited to be an offensive lineman, but I’ve decided to start him out on defense. Also, I’ve talked long and hard about not having the depth at running back we’ve all become accustomed to around here, so I moved Alex Daniels to running back. We have to get creative because we still want to run the football.

When queried about the so-called Year of the Quarterback in the Big Ten Conference, Mason responded, “Ten teams return veteran quarterbacks, and we happen to be one of them. I look for Bryan Cupito to have an exceptional year for us. He’s played pretty good football the last two years and during spring practice he was far superior. He’s always been an accurate passer. He’s been a smart and durable guy. He has an air of confidence about him right now and an air of leadership and he’s throwing the ball pretty well. We look for him to have an exceptional year.”

Perhaps the most significant losses from the 2005 season were in the offensive line where All-Americans Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom graduated. “We lost some good offensive linemen,” said Mason. “I miss some of those guys even more than I would have anticipated, not just because they were great football players but because they were great people. But we will have a good offensive line again. When Joe Ainslie broke his hand in the 2005 opener against Tulsa, it really allowed Steve Shidell to step in and gain some valuable experience. In saying that, we really return three starters at that position which gives us some flexibility and enabled us to move Tony Brinkhaus to center. We have enough pieces there that I really believe we’ll be good on the offensive line again. Our tight end position is solid. Matt Spaeth is an exceptional tight end. He’s a dominant blocker at that position and is a good pass receiver as well. Hopefully we’ll throw more to him this year.”

Mason praised the team’s wide receiving corps. “We don’t have great numbers there, but collectively they’re the best we’ve had. We have two proven veterans in Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne, and the two young guys I’m excited to see are Eric Decker and Mike Chambers. I second-guessed myself from midway on that I probably should have played them last year. They really could have helped us.”

Mason mentioned that fans expect the Gophers to take advantage of Cupito’s experience and throw the ball more. “People assume we’re going to go from run, run, run to pass, pass, pass,” Mason observed. “We’re not going to do that. We’ve run the ball exceptionally well, and if anything we’ve been underrated throwing the ball. We haven’t utilized our passing game as much as we could have because we’ve run the ball so effectively. When I look at us right now I’m a little uncertain about the running back position, but I’m confident in our quarterback and the decision he’ll make. I’m confident in his throwing ability and I’m confident in our receivers, so that’s why I think you’ll see us throw the ball more effectively.”

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