The P.J. Fleck era officially begins this evening at 6 p.m. when the Gophers open the season against Buffalo at TCF Bank Stadium. As we wait for kickoff, here are five Gophers players that I’m most interested to watch tonight:
- Since Fleck named co-starting quarterbacks, we’ll combine Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft as one entry. The two quarterbacks are the No. 1 story line entering the opener. Neither was able to separate from the other during spring and fall camps, so Fleck decided to play both, at least to start the season. I’m curious to see how Fleck handles playing time and when he makes the switch. He didn’t promise a 50-50 split. He hasn’t even announced publicly which one will start tonight.
- Carter Coughlin. The true sophomore from Eden Prairie changed positions this season, moving from linebacker to rush end. The Gophers’ deep linebacker group allowed the coaching staff to move Coughlin to defensive line, which is thin in depth. It will be interesting to see if Carter can offset the size advantage tackles will have on him by using his speed and athleticism to create pressure off the edge.
- Demetrius Douglas. Fleck has raved about this true freshman receiver from Day 1 of camp. The Gophers don’t return much production at receiver so Douglas was given an opportunity to win a significant role. He took advantage and is listed as a starter.
- Antoine Winfield Jr. The true sophomore is a difference-maker on defense. He’s easily one of their most valuable players because he’s versatile, productive and always seems to be around the ball. Fleck indicated the coaching staff will use Winfield in a variety of roles – safety, slot nickel, maybe even on the outside – which shows his impact on the defense and the trust coaches have in him.
- Brandon Lingen. When healthy, the senior tight end gives the offense another threat in the passing game. Injuries limited him to only three games last season. Lingen could be valuable for the two quarterbacks if he can stay on the field. He had two 100-yard receiving games in 2015.