Who doesn't love a spring ball wrap-up blog? And if that isn't great enough, there will be TWO, with one tomorrow discussing the unanswered questions surrounding Gophers football heading into summer. But for now, enjoy some takes on what the Gophers have going for them in 2019. And catch up on all my spring game coverage here, here and here.
The wide receivers are the strongest group by far.
The Gophers’ receiving corps is going to make this team look very good and likely win some games. Senior Tyler Johnson leads the way, a proven standout. But Rashod Bateman had an MVP-worthy spring game, and coach P.J. Fleck said the sophomore gained 12 pounds of muscle this offseason. Chris Autman-Bell has put together maybe the best spring of all the wideouts, according to Fleck. And Demetrius Douglas has impressed playing every receiver position and transitioning with ease. There’s a lot of depth in this group, and it will be exciting to watch.
The pass-rush will take a step forward.
The defense certainly wasn’t the Gophers’ strongest suit last year. And while they pulled it together toward the end of the season, 2019 might see some significant improvements. Senior Carter Coughlin was the team’s best pass-rusher last year, and he might be in for some big help from redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Boye Mafe. Fleck said with those two – plus other linemen like senior Tai’yon Devers, redshirt sophomore Esezi Otomewo, graduate student Micah Dew-Treadway, redshirt senior Winston DeLattiboudere and redshirt senior Sam Renner – he can be creative with his personnel packages, moving players around to have, for example, Mafe and Coughlin on the field together.
Thomas Rush might have some <eyes emoji> on him.
The sophomore linebacker really impressed Fleck with his 71-yard interception return for a touchdown in the spring game. He turned on his high school running back skills for that play. But Fleck said he’s liking how Rush is settling in to his defensive role now, which was hard last year for Rush to learn the instincts, techniques and tackling skills that weren’t natural to him as mainly an offensive player growing up. Fleck said Rush was “tremendous” in the game and opened his eyes to some things. So this player might be looking at some heavier rotation at strongside linebacker and maybe even a breakout season.