By Joe Perovich | KFAN.com
*Not to be misunderstood as “the five best players on the Gophers”. Some of them might be included in such a list, but others not. This preview series will consist of five articles about five Gophers players that will make the biggest jump in 2014, by my estimation. It could be a player who’s been prominent in past years that will make an even bigger jump this year, or a player that has flown under-the-radar and will be a well-known commodity by season’s end.
No. 4 – Today: Berkley Edwards, RB, RS Fr.
No. 3 – Tuesday
No. 2 – Thursday
No. 1 – Aug. 23
Let's spell out who will be spelling senior running back David Cobb in 2014.
How about senior Donnell Kirkwood, who was one of Minnesota's three representatives at 2013 Big Ten media days? Maybe junior Rodrick Williams Jr., who received the second-most carries (60) of any running back on the 2013 Minnesota Golden Gophers, after Cobb?
To start the season, it appears to be neither.
Redshirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards, a native of Cheslea, Mich., was a member of Minnesota's 2013 recruiting class. Going into last season, many expected Edwards, a true freshman, was going to be heavily featured in the running back rotation when then-starter Kirkwood would come off the field.
A debilitating ankle injury forced Edwards to the sideline one week before the team's first game versus UNLV, and his recovery was slow enough to warrant redshirting the season.
But Edwards is back to his old self, one year older -- and one year wiser.
When asked about Edwards this past week, separate teammates used the exact, same phrasing when describing the lethal 5-foot-9, 190 pound scatback.
"He's an 80-yard-play threat on any drive," Cobb said.
"He's definitely a game breaker, he can take it 80 [yards] at any point," Gophers redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Streveler said.
Edwards darts from point-to-point, making defenses appear one second too slow when squaring up to make a play. Some have dubbed him the fastest player on the team, but Edwards himself is quick to give that tag to his roommate, sophomore defensive back Jalen Myrick. He has a running style that seemingly repels defenders and one that offers the necessary change-of-pace to Cobb, the team's starter after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
Cobb's deceptively agile, but ideal running between or off-tackle. He needs a reliever that contrasts his style.
Williams Jr. is getting better at allowing the play to develop before hitting the hole, but he grinds out his production in the trenches and is the team's biggest running back at 5-foot-11, 247 pounds. The recent Kirkwood buzz will need confirmation on the field, as he averaged a paltry 3.83 carries in the Gophers final six games of 2013. For differing reasons, it appears freshmen running backs Jeff Jones and Rodney Smith will not see the field in 2014.
The best option appears to be Edwards, who has the unique skill set of being able to play when Cobb is both on and off the field. With zero games played, Edwards possesses a skill set that many Gophers fans don't have a frame a reference for yet. Here is a highlight from his senior season at Chelsea H.S.
Watch Edwards' upper body absorb continuous blows while remaining level, seemingly unchanged. The running back's low center of gravity makes it hard for defenders to make a form tackle at or below his waist. As a result, their attempts strike high, where Edwards appears to have enough strength to slip by and extend plays.
Not only is Edwards suitable to reap a backup's workload, 5-10 carries a game, he can be split out wide while Cobb remains in the game at running back. If Cobb is producing positive plays at an efficient rate and the defense decides to stack the box, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover will have a play-action bubble screen to Edwards set-up perfectly.
And considering nobody is making headway in the Gophers three-man fullback competition, don't be surprised if Limegrover and head coach Jerry Kill deploy Cobb and Edwards in creative, two-back sets on a sporadic basis to see how the defense reacts.
Minnesota didn't plan for David Cobb to emerge last season, but injury and opportunity can bring about an unexpected positive.
A year later, Edwards' opportunity stems from the severe uncertainty of Jones' eligibility.
To phrase it like his teammate, Streveler, don't be surprised if "he takes it and runs [80 yards]."