– Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck wouldn’t make any early predictions Tuesday on how much better his team would be in Year 3 under his direction, but he was excited to talk about the progress in a specific area.

Minnesota’s offense might be the best it’s been since Fleck got here in 2017.

“I think so,” Fleck said at the first stop of the Gophers coaches caravan tour this spring. “We have to stay healthy and we have to continue to get better, but I think progressively we wanted to get to this point. Now we’ve got to go out there and play and continue to master our offense.”

On paper, the Gophers offense has all the tools to be special this season. Nine starters return, including All-Big Ten receiver Tyler Johnson. Depth at running back could be the strongest in years, especially with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks returning from injuries.

“I really like where we’re at offensively just in terms of the depth and the talent,” Fleck said. “That doesn’t mean we’re a finished product.”

Fleck said one of the biggest challenges will be finding ways to get the ball to his playmakers. Naming a starting quarterback this fall between Tanner Morgan and Zack Annexstad will also help determine how far the offense can go this season.

“They’ve both pushed each other,” Fleck said. “Their leadership qualities are getting better. They’re owning the team a lot more. And in every area, whether it’s decisionmaking, accuracy or pocket feel, they’re getting better.”

Hometown hero

Fleck praised the attitude of Gophers freshman running back and Owatonna native Jason Williamson, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in spring practice last month.

Williamson, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards as Minnesota’s Mr. Football, was seeing meaningful reps in the backfield in practice before the injury. But Fleck said he would’ve likely played mainly on special teams this year.

“Obviously, the injury in the spring was devastating for him and his family,” Fleck said. “But he’s going to come back better than ever. If there’s one time to possibly be hurt as a tailback it’s this year, because we do have a lot of depth at tailback.”

MARCUS FULLER