Citing the importance of offensive line recruiting Wednesday, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said the team will have only six healthy linemen for spring practice.
The Gophers need to replace two starters — Jonah Pirsig (graduation), Tyler Moore (center). And last year, injuries limited others such as Garrison Wright, Vincent Calhoun and Jared Weyler.
“We had a total of 19 surgeries in the offseason — 19,” Fleck said. “That’s a lot. That’s way more than what I’m used to. So we have to be able to fix some things in a lot of different areas that’s not necessarily broken, just needs to be tweaked.”
Fleck landed three offensive line signees on national signing day — Blaise Andries (Marshall, Minn.), Kyle Sassack (Pontiac, Mich.) and John Schmitz (Flossmoor, Ill.).
Andries was the highest-rated recruit in the Gophers’ 25-man class, with a 0.8857 grade on 247Sports.com and a four-star rating on Scout.com.
“We want to keep our Minnesota players here, period,” Fleck said. “He’s the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country. He’s a 4.0 student, and I didn’t get to know him very long. We recruited him at my former stop [Western Michigan], and then boom — that was over probably within a week or two because he had 20-some offers from all over the country.”
Defensive tackle holes
Fleck listed another major roster concern at defensive tackle.
The Gophers have three potent DTs returning as seniors this fall: Steven Richardson, Andrew Stelter and Merrick Jackson, and Gary Moore is a redshirt junior. But heading into signing day, they had no freshmen or sophomores at the position.
Fleck signed six defensive linemen Wednesday: Noah Hickox (WMU flip), Boye Mafe (Hopkins prospect who had a Rutgers offer), Esezi Otomewo (offers from Illinois, Purdue), Malcolm Robinson (Purdue flip), Austin Schirck (Northern Iowa flip) and Royal Silver (Syracuse offer).
Defensive tackle is “an issue we needed to address now, and that’s another issue that we’ll address in 2018,” Fleck said, saying the plan is to sign six more d-linemen in next year’s class. “This was a major need, and it’s the hardest position to find in college and the National Football League, let alone finding them in 2½ weeks.”
Not done yet
The major recruiting services listed the Gophers with 28 commitments heading into signing day, but they wound up signing 25. Ihmir Smith-Marsette signed with Iowa, while Tyrone Chambers and Eric Abojei had academic issues getting into Minnesota.
NCAA rules allow teams to assign up to 25 scholarships in each class, and players who enroll early can be counted toward previous classes. The Gophers have three early enrollees (Tanner Morgan, Neil McLaurin and Trenton Guthrie) after signing 21 players last year.
“We still have a few [spots] left that we are possibly going to hold onto until after the spring,” Fleck said.