The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ coaches have made it clear that no starting spot will be decided in the spring, but the truth is that the team does not seem to have very many starting spots up for grabs on the offensive side of the ball following the Maroon team’s 24-17 victory over the Gold team in the spring game. So I took a shot at what the offensive depth chart might look like as the team closes out spring practice and heads into summer workouts.
Starter(s): Tanner Morgan
Backup(s): Zack Annexstad
Regardless of how you felt about his performance last season, Tanner Morgan is the Gophers’ top signal until further notice. It’s that simple. Behind him, Zack Annexstad looked the part of a No. 2 quarterback this spring. He was 14-of-23 for 232 passing yards in the spring game and lived up to his reputation as a chaos quarterback. He made throws that wowed you and others that made you shake your head. Cole Kramer was limited in the game, reportedly due to missing practice time this spring with COVID, and Jacob Clark did not participate for similar reasons.
Starter(s): Mohamed Ibrahim
Backup(s): Trey Potts and Cam Wiley
The reigning Big Ten Running Back of the Year did not participate in spring practice because he was observing Ramadan and you’ll hear no complaints from me about that. The Gophers’ bell cow has nothing left to prove, so priority one is keeping him healthy for the fall. The spring game was a chance for other the running backs to find their footing, but none seemed to separate themselves from the pack. Cam Wiley was the only one to find the end zone. But Trey Potts, who rushed for 31 yards on 10 carries, continues to look like their best option behind Ibrahim.
Starter(s): Chris Autman-Bell, Daniel Jackson, and Clay Geary
Backup(s): Mike Brown-Stephens, Douglas Emilien, and Dylan Wright
The top three are clear cut, in my opinion. All you had to do was watch the spring game to recognize that Chris Autman-Bell, Daniel Jackson, and Clay Geary are a cut above the rest. I’m less confident in my back-up picks. Mike Brown-Stephens is probably the next most experienced receiver on the roster behind those three and saw a fair share of the action in the spring game. But Douglas Emilien and Dylan Wright were both non-participants in the spring game, opening the door for early enrollees Brady Boyd and Lemeke Brockington to see the field. The coaches were high on Emilien in fall camp last year, and both head coach P.J. Fleck and wide receivers coach Matt Simon have talked about the skill set Wright, a transfer from Texas A&M, brings to the table. So I’m giving those two the benefit of the doubt, but it’s anyone’s game.
Starter(s): Ko Kieft
Backup(s): Bryce Witham and Brevyn Spann-Ford
Business as usual here. Ko Kieft and Bryce Witham have been mainstays at the position for a couple years now and are back for one more season before riding off into the sunset. Brevyn Spann-Ford will once again spur talk of throwing to the tight end in the red zone.
Starter(s): Sam Schlueter
Backup(s): Aireontae Ersery
Death, taxes, and Sam Schlueter at left tackle. He has been the Gophers’ starting left tackle exclusively for the last two years and will be again in the fall for one last go-round. Aireontae Ersery was a true freshman last season and got the starting nod at right tackle against Nebraska when Minnesota was missing two starters due to COVID.
Starter(s): Blaise Andries
Backup(s): Axel Ruschmeyer
Axel Ruschmeyer started six games at left guard last season, but with Daniel Faalele back and primed to retake his starting spot at right tackle, Blaise Andries will likely shift back inside.
Starter(s): John Michael Schmitz
Backup(s): Karter Shaw
John Michael Schmitz did not participate in the spring game, but I have no reason to believe he won’t be the starting center come September. Karter Shaw, the transfer offensive linemen from Utah State, was a right guard with Aggies but offensive line coach Brian Callahan seems to be grooming him to be the heir apparent to Schmitz at center.
Starter(s): Conner Olson
Backup(s): Curtis Dunlap Jr.
Curtis Dunlap Jr. would have been the starting right guard last season if not for an undisclosed injury suffered during fall camp. Instead, Conner Olson took over in his absence and the position is now his to lose. Dunlap was able to participate in spring practice but is likely still working his way back to 100 percent. I wouldn’t rule out him starting again in the fall, but the more realistic outcome is probably that he’ll serve as the Gophers’ sixth lineman.
Starter(s): Daniel Faalele
Backup(s): J.J. Guedet
Welcome back, Daniel Faalele. The Gophers’ mammoth right tackle sat out all of last season due to COVID concerns and it was an open question when he’d to return to campus and what kind of shape he’d be in when he did. Well, question answered. The coaching staff has heaped praise on Faalele for his offseason conditioning amid reports that he actually dropped his weight from 420 lbs. down to around 380 while away from the team. He was also an active participant in the spring game, even throwing a touchdown pass. Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.