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Minnesota began spring practice last week, entering the third year under P.J. Fleck. After improving from his first year, Fleck has the program headed in the right direction. There may be questions in certain areas, but the Gophers have intriguing storylines that are positive. Today, we take a look at both with five storylines to watch as the 2019 Minnesota Gophers begin spring practice.
With a ton of questions in the first two years, some stability found its way to this team. Running back and wide receiver became strengths for the Gophers last year, and they return a ton of talent at both positions in 2019. Injuries caused concerns at the running back position last year, but those quickly went away when Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams proved to be reliable. Now, Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith return from those injuries to create a crowded backfield. Reps become limited, but the competition will be intense. At receiver, Tyler Johnson broke out as expected, but other players flashed their potential. Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell emerged to give fans a preview of this year. With questions at quarterback and offensive line, having stability at the other skill positions should ease some concerns about the offense.
Could it be that Minnesota finally sees a positive quarterback battle? One that shows potential instead of just another body to fill the position? Quarterback play became a yearly concern for the Gophers in the previous regime, but that changed with Fleck. His recruiting brought in players with hype. For a program lacking in that department, it was a welcomed excitement. Zack Annexstad began the year as the starter, but inconsistencies and injuries gave the job to Tanner Morgan. Both find themselves competing once again for the spot. Incoming freshman Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer won’t compete for the starting spot, but both provide more competition. With the aforementioned talent at running back and receiver, the offense has potential. One quarterback could make a huge difference. Minnesota just needs to find the right one. If they do, watch out Big Ten.
Antoine Winfield’s return
Winfield emerged as arguably the best defensive player on the team last year before his season ending injury. Luckily for the Gophers, he returns this year to a defensive backfield that needs some stability. Minnesota retains an electric playmaker on defense, but also one that can make an impact on special teams.
If Minnesota is to live up to the preseason hype already heading their way, the defense needs to be consistent all year. Getting Winfield back gives the Gophers another leader on that side of the ball. The defense showed tremendous improvement late in the season last year without him. Now they get a chance to show what they can do with him. The potential is great for both their leader and the group as a whole.
Living up to the hype
Whether you believe it or not, the rumblings about the 2019 Minnesota Gophers have already begun. Some experts believe this team could be a surprise team this year. Improvement from P.J. Fleck’s first to second year, great recruiting classes, and a good number of returning starters contribute to that. This put Minnesota in unfamiliar territory. Normally, not many people nationally recognize the Gophers as anything but another average team. Fleck’s brought them to a new place, but will they handle the spotlight well? The hype around this team isn’t too much yet, but that can quickly change. It’s up to Fleck and the coaching staff to control how much their team buys into it.
Replacing Emmit Carpenter
Arguably the most underrated storyline of the spring. Quarterback battle, offensive line replacements, and pretty much any other story overshadows Carpenter’s absence. Replacing one of the more reliable kickers won’t be an easy task. For now, it’s a three way battle to replace him, but the shoes are awfully big at the moment.