There must have been a mandate from the Powers That Be over at The Athletic for all of the college football writers to crank out their projected depth charts this week, because my Twitter feed has been inundated with them. Feeling a bit of FOMO, I figured TDG should do the same. Especially since I don’t think The Athletic has a Gopher football writer?
Backup(s): Tanner Morgan, Zack Annexstad, or Jacob Clark
Overview: Three contenders — I’d categorize the other incoming freshman quarterback Cole Kramer, who will also enroll in the spring, as a dark horse candidate — and no clear favorite. Normally, that’d be cause for concern. But both Morgan and Annexstad acquitted themselves well last season. Annexstad started the first seven games of the season and Morgan started the final six, effectively splitting the season down the middle between the two freshman signal callers. Together, the pair eclipsed the Gophers’ total passing yards from the previous season (from 1,513 to 2,678), completed a higher percentage of their passes (from 47.4 percent to 54.8 percent), and doubled the number of passing touchdowns (from nine to 18).
Clark will enroll in the spring as a true freshman and push Morgan and Annexstad for the starting spot after completing 64.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,295 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Rockwall High School in Texas.
Starter(s): Mohamed Ibrahim
Backup(s): Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks
Overview: To be clear, I expect Smith or Brooks to be the starter (or starters), if healthy. But Brooks is recovering from two ACL tears — one for each knee — in the span of a year, and Smith tore his ACL in the second game of the season. There’s no guarantee either of them will be fully recovered and ready to go when the Gophers open the season against South Dakota State, and even if they are, how long can they stay on the field?
With that said, the Gophers will be more than okay if Ibrahim is getting the bulk of the carries next season. As a redshirt freshman, he missed three games due to injury, yet still managed to record the second highest single-season rushing total by a freshman at Minnesota. Ibrahim finished the season with 1,160 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, accounting for 345 rushing yards against Wisconsin and Georgia Tech alone.
Starter(s): Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman, and Chris Autman-Bell
Backup(s): Demetrius Douglas, Seth Green, and Nnamdi Adim-Madumere
Overview: Johnson will return for his senior season after breaking the school records for most receiving yards (1,169) and receiving touchdowns (12) in a single season. That’s kind of a big deal. He’ll lead one of the most talented groups of wide receivers at Minnesota in recent memory. Bateman will be a sophomore and looking to build off an impressive freshman campaign that saw him trail only Johnson with 51 receptions, 704 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.
Autman-Bell and Douglas are the less flashy players at the position, at least compared to Johnson and Bateman, but I expect them both to be key contributors.
I’ve been told not to sleep on redshirt freshman wide receiver Erik Gibson, but it will be hard for the coaching staff to keep Adim-Madumere off the field as a true freshman. With his absurd combination of size and speed, he is a matchup nightmare for defenses.
Green is technically a wide receiver, but I think well know he occupies his own unique position. It’ll be interesting to see how that role evolves moving forward. Will we see him throwing and catching more passes next season? Stay tuned.
Starter(s): Jake Paulson
Backup(s): Brevyn Spann-Ford
Overview: You may not have noticed, but Paulson started six games last season as a redshirt freshman and played in all 13 games, serving as less of a pass-catching tight end but excelling as a blocker. But word around the campfire is that Fleck and co. love the size and athleticism that rising redshirt freshman Spann-Ford brings to the table. I’m sure offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and tight ends coach Clay Patterson are drooling at the possibilities. Expect to see a healthy dose of both Paulson and Spann-Ford moving forward, along with redshirt junior Ko Kieft.
Starter(s): Jason Dickson
Backup(s): Kyle Sassack
Overview: The biggest hole on offense, both figuratively and literally, will be the starting left tackle spot vacated by three-year starter Donnell Greene. The heir apparent would seem to be Dickson, a JUCO offensive tackle who redshirted last season but did not see a single snap of game action, even with four games to burn. That was reportedly a decision made so that he could focus on academics, but without specifics, we’re left to wonder.
As we work our way through the offensive line portion of the depth chart, you’ll notice a distinct lack of experience behind the starting five. Sassack is no exception, having backed up Greene as a redshirt freshman but only playing in two games all season.
Starter(s): Curtis Dunlap
Backup(s): Austin Beier
Overview: Conner Olson started all 13 games for the Gophers last season at left guard — more on him in a minute — but I expect the redshirt freshman Dunlap to slot in here next season. We got a glimpse of Dunlap in a starting role when he filled in at right guard against Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl, with Blaise Andries shifting to left tackle. But I think the long-term plans are to have both Dunlap and Andries at the guard positions.
Beier redshirted last season as a true freshman and saw no game action.
Starter(s): Conner Olson
Backup(s): John Michael Schmitz
Overview: Jared Weyler graduates, as one of only two starters to depart on offense for Minnesota. Olson, despite playing guard all of last season, is expected to shift here to take over for Weyler at center. The two aren’t related — at least not to my knowledge — but an Olson at center would be a good omen considering Tommy Olson anchored the offensive line in 2014 that paved the way for running back David Cobb’s record-breaking season. I have heard good things about Schmitz, who saw a lot of special teams action as a redshirt freshman last year.
Starter(s): Blaise Andries
Backup(s): Nathan Boe
Overview: If he stays in school long enough, Andries has the potential to be a four-year starter on the offensive line for Minnesota. That’d be good news for the Gophers.
Boe redshirted last season as a true freshman and saw no game action.
Starter(s): Daniel Faalele
Backup(s): Sam Schlueter
Overview: The coaching staff did not want to have to do it, but burning Faalele’s redshirt as a true freshman and inserting him at starting right tackle for the final eight games of the season was a season-saving move. He keyed the turnaround for an offensive line that was dominant by season’s end. The Gophers are guaranteed at least two more seasons of Faalele, and if his freshman season is any indication, the sky is the limit for this 6’9’’, 400-lb. offensive tackle.
Schlueter was the unfortunate casualty of Faalele’s emergence, but he found a valuable role as the swing tackle and a blocking tight end by season’s end. I also know that Fleck and offensive line coach Brian Callahan are high on redshirt freshman tackle Jack York.