College football is just around the corner -- we’re less than 10 weeks away from the Gophers’ season opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 30. So, with that in mind, I’ll be examining some story lines, players and trends to watch over the next few weeks. Here’s today’s installment:
Five Gophers true freshmen to watch on offense and defense
When the NCAA revamped its redshirt rules last week – allowing athletes to appear in up to four games in a season without using a year of eligibility – college football coaches gained roster flexibility and players gained more chances to impress on the field. How the new rule plays out for the Gophers won’t become clear until fall but expect more freshmen to see the field if game situations dictate. Here are those who could have the most impact:
Rashod Bateman, wide receiver: The 6-2, 200-pounder was a strong candidate to see action even before the new redshirt rule. With only Tyler Johnson firmly entrenched as a go-to wideout, there will be opportunities to seize playing time. The Gophers beat out the likes of Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Tennessee to land Bateman, so they’ll get him on the field.
Zack Annexstad, quarterback: The early enrollee from Norseland, Minn., via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., wasted no time in establishing himself as at least the backup QB in 2018. He quickly passed junior college transfer Vic Viramontes during spring drills, and Viramontes transferred back to Riverside (Calif.) City College to play linebacker. Annexstad will battle redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan for the starting job, and that decision will be made during training camp. Coach P.J. Fleck has said more than one QB could play this season, so don’t be surprised if Annexstad sees more action than a typical backup (if he’s not the starter).
Nolan Edmonds, running back: Rodney Smith is the Gophers’ bell cow in the backfield, and redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim had a solid spring game. But with Shannon Brooks lost for the season because of injury, the 5-11, 200-pound Edmonds adds another option. He’ll get a chance to earn playing time, as will fellow freshman back Bryce Williams.
Curtis Dunlap Jr./Daniel Faalele, offensive line: The four-star early enrollees from IMG Academy are a tandem entry because they’re so intriguing. Dunlap is smaller one at 6-5 and 370 pounds to Faalele’s 6-9 and 400, so their size can create problems for opposing defensive lines. Offensive linemen take longer to develop than players at a skill position such as running back, so Dunlap and Faalele might not play right away. They could be used sparingly early in case injuries strike the offensive line, which happened last year.
Brevyn Spann-Ford, tight end: At 6-7 and 245, the St. Cloud Tech multisport athlete gives the Gophers their tallest target. Though Gophers tight ends caught only 18 passes last year, Spann-Ford offers an intriguing option.
Braelen Oliver, linebacker: The 6-foot, 215-pounder was a tackling machine for Douglas (Ga.) County High School, finishing with 164 stops as a senior. Oliver drawn comparisons to 2017 leader Jonathan Celestin, and he'll get a look.
Thomas Rush, linebacker: The early enrollee made a case to see playing time by leading the Gold team with nine tackles in the spring game. He could provide valuable depth.
Alex Reigelsperger, defensive end: As a senior at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio, Reigelsperger had 12.5 sacks, and when we had a glimpse of that pass-rushing ability in the Gophers spring game when he had one sack. You never can have enough pass rushers.
Elijah Teague, defensive tackle: Though the Gophers have players in front of him, Teague brings a 6-3, 295-pound frame and agility to the defensive line. Expect him to get a look.
CJ Smith, cornerback: The 6-1, 180-pounder has a physical, hard-hitting presence, something Fleck felt the secondary needed. He’ll add depth, and we saw last year how injuries can force youngsters into the lineup.