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Scoggins: Coughlin, Winfield, quarterbacks among Gophers to watch

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Scoggins: Superfan from New York checks off Vikings bucket list item

MANKATO -- Jonathan Donath can rattle off the six most memorable days of his life in a matter of seconds.

His wedding day, the birth of his two children, the day he hit a hole-in-one and “the two days my dad brought me here.”

Here would be Vikings training camp Mankato. Their first visit came in 1998 when Donath was 18, the second trip coming in 2001.

“It was Randy Moss’ rookie year [in ‘98],” he said. “Cris Carter signed my Cris Carter jersey. It was the greatest day of my life. I don’t want to insult my wife by saying that.”

I’m guessing no offense taken since she’s probably used to her husband’s obsession with Twin Cities sports teams.

Donath grew up in St. Louis Park but has lived in New York since 2000. He’s a 36-year-old chiropractor.

 When he read that the Vikings will no longer make Mankato their training camp home after this season, Donath made arrangements to bring his 10-year-old son, Eitan, for a visit. Just like his father did for him.

“This was a bucket list,” he said. “I don’t care how much it cost.”

They originally planned to visit camp Thursday but bad weather in New York delayed their flight, causing them to land in the Twin Cities at 4 a.m. They decided to visit Mankato on Friday instead.

Dad wore a Percy Harvin jersey; Eitan wore his Adrian Peterson jersey.

Despite living in New York, Donath says he watches every Vikings game, every Gophers football and basketball game and he bought NBA League Pass so he can watch every Timberwolves game.

He buys tickets every time the Wolves play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and Donath and his son take a trip every summer to catch a Twins road series.

Donath’s daughter, Talia, was born the night of the Twins Game 163 in 2009. Fifteen minutes after his daughter was born, Donath received a flood of congratulatory text messages.

“I’m like, how do they possibly know I just had a baby?” he said. “I had taped the game and I was like, shoot they told me the Twins had won. It ruined the game for me because I got home from the hospital at two in the morning and watched the whole game even though I knew [the result].”

Donath and his son are scheduled to fly home Sunday night after attending the Twins game. They’re not going back to New York empty-handed.

Eitan scored Sam Bradford’s autograph on Friday.