Today, the Minnesota Golden Gophers take the field for their first practice of the spring, culminating in the official Spring Game at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, at TCF Bank Stadium. As a reminder, head coach P.J. Fleck will hold three practices open to the public:
- Friday, March 15 – 4:45 p.m.
- Tuesday, March 26 – 4:45 p.m.
- Tuesday, April 2 – 4:45 p.m.
I’ve taken the liberty of outlining what to watch:
Who will start at quarterback?
In what has become somewhat of an annual tradition, the Gophers will have yet another quarterback competition this spring, but the circumstances seem less dire than in years past. For starters, Minnesota will have four scholarship quarterbacks competing to be the top signal caller — a welcome change from last year. Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan both return after essentially splitting the starts from last season, with mixed to solid results. True freshmen early enrollees Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer will make things interesting. I know more than a few Gopher fans have high expectations for Clark, in particular.
Musical chairs on the offensive line
Minnesota will need to replace center Jared Weyler and left tackle Donnell Green, both of whom have graduated. Will redshirt junior Conner Olson shift from guard to center, opening up the starting left guard spot for redshirt freshman Curtis Dunlap? Or will redshirt freshman Blaise Andries shift from right guard to left tackle? JUCO offensive lineman Jason Dickson is also a candidate to start at left tackle. If Olson doesn’t take over for Weyler at center, will redshirt sophomore John Michael Schmitz make a claim?
No matter who ends up where, this could be one of the strongest offensive lines the Gophers have had in years, anchored by a young corps of talented linemen comprised of Andries, Dunlap, and mammoth right tackle Daniel Faalele.
Fresh faces on the defensive line
Gary Moore graduated, O.J. Smith opted to take his chances in the NFL, and Royal Silver retired for medical reasons. That leaves a gaping hole of opportunity smack dab in the middle of the Gophers’ defensive line. Sophomore Jamaal Teague, JUCO transfer Keonte Schad, Notre Dame transfer Micah Dew-Treadway, and true freshman early enrollee Rashad Cheney will be among those battling for pole position.
On the edge, All-Big Ten pass rusher Carter Coughlin could be headed back to linebacker — more on that in a minute — opening the door for redshirt sophomore Boye Mafe to capitalize on an impressive bowl game performance. At the opposite end, three-year starting defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere will need to fend off challenges from redshirt sophomore Esezi Otomewo and a bevy of up-and-coming young talent.
Who will replace Blake Cashman?
Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin can be penciled in at two of the Gophers’ three linebacker spots. But who will step in for the NFL-bound Blake Cashman? The obvious choice would be the aforementioned Coughlin, who converted to defensive end from linebacker and could transition back to his original position for his senior season. If not Coughlin, look out for sophomore Thomas Rush, who possesses the kind of raw athleticism that made Cashman such a terror.
Finding stability in the secondary
If I’m being honest, this is the position group I’m most interested in watching this spring. Antoine Winfield, Jr. is cleared to practice and will be a full participant this spring, but I’m more curious about the players Minnesota will be surrounding him with.
Who will replace Jacob Huff at safety? Sophomores Jordan Howden and Benny Sapp III and redshirt freshman C.J. Smith have a chance to show what they can do this spring before JUCO safety Gervarrius Owens arrives on campus this summer.
Minnesota also has a crowded field of promising cornerbacks — Chris Williamson, Coney Durr, Kiondre Thomas, Terell Smith, and JUCO cornerback Kelvin Clemmons — and not enough starting spots on the field to go around. Let the battle begin.
The search for the next Emmit Carpenter
Three-year starting kicker Emmit Carpenter is gone. He will certainly be missed. Who will step into his kicking shoes? It almost certainly won’t be decided this spring, with incoming freshman Michael Lantz and Connecticut grad transfer Michael Tarbutt not arriving until this summer. But perhaps Grant Ryerse, the lone scholarship kicker on the spring roster, will take the opportunity this spring to make his case for the starting kicker position.
What are you most interested in watching this spring?