To end the Gophers’ Friday practice session, coach P.J. Fleck put a twist on the two-minute drill.
The practice was a walkthrough, meaning players were going half-speed and non-contact. Quarterbacks weren’t throwing, instead pointing out their targets downfield and holding onto the ball.
Despite the limitations, Fleck rolled with his own variation of a two-minute offense. He chose the clock situation, how many timeouts the Gophers had and other typical factors in the late-game simulation.
Rather than the players actually running through the plays, though, Fleck just yelled out what he thought should happen per play. That meant a play could have gone for a 50-yard gain or an incompletion — whatever Fleck wanted.
The unusual situation led to tight end Bryce Witham praising Tanner Morgan for his throws that never happened. Kickers were also praised for their made field goals, despite the result depending entirely on Fleck.
The variation of the two-minute drill during the walkthrough was Fleck’s attempt at focusing on the mental aspect of the game. The Gophers were coming off a long, physical Thursday practice, so the coach switched it up for the next day.
As a defensive lineman, Sam Renner said he knew the drill wasn’t exactly for him. He pointed out how the quarterbacks and defensive backs likely got the most out of it, being able to see routes and formations downfield. Renner, who bangs low in the trenches, did appreciate the non-contact portion of the drills for the sake of his body.
“It was part of the practice, I understand that,” Renner said. “But as a player and competitor, you always want to kind of put that pressure on your shoulders and not let somebody else choose it. But I understand what coach Fleck was doing.”
Joe Rossi said there’s a certain level of comfort and stability that comes from his first offseason as defensive coordinator. He was named interim defensive coordinator in November 2018 and has held that position since.
With Rossi, there should also be some shakeups on the defensive side of the ball. It was seen a bit during Thursday’s practice at TCF Bank Stadium, with the Gophers mixing up fronts and packages.
Rossi said the Gophers can’t expect to have the same personnel and packages every snap and expect to be successful. The key to the changes is also based on the players and their strengths, Rossi added. The coach said he believes the Gophers have the athletes and skill set necessary to tinker with his defense.
“We have different personnel packages,” Rossi said. “We’re looking at playing to our guys’ strengths, whether they do well. If they’re not comfortable, then we’re going to avoid putting them in those positions.”
Both wide receivers Seth Green and Rashod Bateman were missing from practice Friday. Green was at a wedding for a family member. Bateman was at a funeral.
Fleck said he expects both players back by Sunday.
“I’m just very thankful for the NCAA to provide the student-athletes to get home fast,” Fleck said.
When potential starter Zack Annexstad went down with an injury, it meant Morgan was likely the starting quarterback for the Gophers.
But it’s also opened up more snaps and repetitions for Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark, both quarterbacks vying for the backup spot. Fleck said he’s looking for “consistency” out of the duo. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said he’s aiming to assess both their strengths and weaknesses.
“They’ve been thrust into a more important role now at this point,” Ciarrocca said. “They’ve really impressed in how they’ve handled it. They have been very professional.”