With Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks exiting last season early with injuries, the Gophers thrust Mohamed Ibrahim into a big-time role in his first season.
He put together a breakout year, amassing 1,160 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. And with Smith and Brooks — the only upperclassman running backs as redshirt seniors — still rehabbing their knees, Ibrahim, a sophomore, has become one of the leaders of group in spring practice.
“I joke around with Rodney all the time. I tell him he’s a coach now. He’s not even a player,” Ibrahim said of Smith, who has taken limited reps so far. “He has a lot of experience, a lot of experience. Like if you sit down with him in the film room, you will learn something new every time.”
Ibrahim said while he will compete with Smith and Brooks come fall, he still goes to them for advice, such as on improving technique and seeing plays better.
“There’s some plays where I thought I did something right, and [Smith] sees something else,” Ibrahim said Tuesday. “… Having him say, ‘That might have worked this time, but versus this team, that might have not worked.’ … Having that different eye and just understand that he’s been in this league for four years, five, six years, seven years.”
The redshirt sophomore said that last part with a laugh, referencing how Smith has been on the team since 2014 thanks to some redshirts and injuries.
P.J. Fleck, though, isn’t worried about how Ibrahim will handle next season with a target on his back.
“Mohamed is one of our best players,” the coach said. “… He’s the hardest worker we have.”
A hamstring injury in 2017 and then a foot injury in 2018 have kept redshirt sophomore defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. from much playing time the past two seasons. But now that he’s back to full health for spring practice — though Fleck still limits his reps — Winfield said he’s even more hungry for a comeback.
“My mind-set going through the first injury, it just taught me a lot about myself and just how to be calm, be patient, everything is supposed to happen exactly the way it’s supposed to happen,” Winfield said. “… I’m just blessed to be back on the field, honestly. Just to be able to run around and just play football.”
The safety said he’s done his best to help the newcomers in his group adjust. Fleck is interested to see that leadership progress even more, as Winfield’s positive presence is more seen than heard.
“He’s hesitant to do it because he [hasn’t played] football in a while, and sometimes when you don’t think you have that proof or you don’t have that evidence, it’s hard to be out in front,” Fleck said. “But people respect him so much by the way he works.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver Seth Green has not participated in the two open spring practices so far, and Fleck said the wildcat quarterback should return in a “few weeks” from a “small lower-body injury.” Fleck said he was unsure if the injury would keep Green, plus other injured players, out of the April 13 spring game.