On Tuesday morning, the Gophers football team released it depth chart for Saturday’s game at Purdue, and one name stood out: Demry Croft.
The sophomore, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, is listed as the third-string quarterback, behind starter Conor Rhoda and backup Seth Green.
Later Tuesday, coach P.J. Fleck announced Croft was back with the team — but not yet as the backup quarterback. Croft, who served as co-starter with Rhoda to begin the season, will have to earn his way back to the backup job.
“When you can control the circumstances and you make that choice [to violate rules], now you’ve got to show why you should be where you were,” Fleck said.
The return of Croft — should he see action — could give the Gophers a threat in the run game. In the 31-24 loss to Maryland on Saturday, the Gophers struggled to run the ball, mustering only 80 yards on 31 carries. The Terrapins stacked the interior against running backs Rodney Smith (18 carries, 35 yards) and Shannon Brooks (12 carries, 39 yards), and Rhoda offered little threat to stretch the defense. He rushed once for 6 yards.
Fleck made it clear that he wants a healthy Rhoda.
“We’re doing everything we can to not run Conor,” Fleck said. “… We have to make sure we keep Conor upright, keep him healthy, continue to get him to distribute the ball, continue to develop the other quarterbacks behind him.”
Rhoda has carried nine times for 9 yards this season, while Croft had seven carries for 96 yards — most of that on a 64-yard touchdown run at Oregon State, his last game before being suspended.
Fleck stressed that improvement in the run game means improvement in all facets.
“We’ve got to run the ball better. We’re going to do what our offensive linemen can do,” he said. “… For us to run the ball better, guys on the outside have to make better plays. We don’t have the fifth-year senior who’s caught 120 balls and you can say, ‘I’m going to rely on that bell cow.’ ”
Winfield probably out
Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who suffered a left hamstring injury in the first quarter against Maryland, likely will not play at Purdue.
“I’m leaning towards no, but I have not made that decision yet,” Fleck said.
Winfield also injured that hamstring during training camp and was forced to miss time. Fleck said he won’t risk bringing the sophomore back early and indicated the injury could take some time to heal.
“He’ll be back at some point. If he’s not, he’s not,” Fleck said. “But we’re going to make sure he’s healthy when he comes back.”
The Gophers’ other starting safety, senior Duke McGhee, will remain suspended because of a violation of team rules for the Purdue game. True freshman Ken Handy-Holly, who made his debut with 14 plays against Maryland, is listed as the starter ahead of senior Adekunle Ayinde.
• The Gophers will honor former Purdue coach Joe Tiller during Saturday’s game against the Boilermakers with a helmet sticker. Tiller died Saturday at 74. “We’ll wear a logo that we designed,” Fleck said. “It’s really neat.” Don’t be surprised if the sticker features a likeness of Tiller’s bushy mustache.
• Fleck reiterated his desire to redshirt true freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan. “He’s getting a lot better,” the coach said. “… I don’t want to have to pull his redshirt. I’m pulling enough redshirts.”
• Redshirt freshman Mark Williams will be part of the wide receiver rotation, Fleck said. Williams was slowed by a foot injury during training camp.