Before the Gophers football team had even snapped the ball for the first time in spring practice, its backfield was thrown a big loss.
Senior running back Shannon Brooks, who has rushed for more than 1,700 yards in his career, will miss the 2018 season because of a noncontact, lower leg injury suffered in the last days of winter conditioning, coach P.J. Fleck announced Tuesday. Brooks will spend the 2018 season as a redshirt and return for his senior season in 2019.
“That’s unfortunate and obviously that is not the news that everyone wants to hear, not what I want to hear, but I will tell you what, he’s been incredibly positive about it,” Fleck said Tuesday morning, just before his Gophers began their first of 15 spring practices. “He sees it as kind of a blessing in his own eyes in how he can continue to mature and how he can get better and obviously be back in 2019.”
Brooks and fellow senior Rodney Smith have formed a solid 1-2 tandem for the better part of the past three seasons. Brooks led the team with 709 rushing yards as a freshman in 2015, with Smith close behind at 670. Smith rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, with Brooks second on the team with 650 yards. Last year, Brooks was limited to six games because of a concussion and leg injuries and ranked third on the team with 369 yards, as Smith rushed for 977 and senior Kobe McCrary for 496.
In 28 career games, Brooks has rushed 336 times for 1,728 yards and 17 touchdowns and has caught 30 passes for 302 yards and a pair of scores. Now, more of the offensive load likely will fall to Smith, a workhorse who has rushed 626 times for 2,805 yards and 21 TDs and caught 56 passes for 419 yards over three seasons.
“What that [injury] creates is Rodney Smith — we all know what Rodney Smith can do,” Fleck said.
Brooks has been a solid complement to Smith in the Gophers run-pass option offense, especially on jet sweeps and when he got in space. Fleck’s task is to find someone to pair with Smith, along with identifying a solid third rushing option in the team’s “pair and a spare’’ philosophy. Candidates include junior Jonathan Femi-Cole, who rushed nine times for 42 yards in 2017, and redshirt freshmen Mohamed Ibrahim and Dominik London. Incoming freshmen Bryce Williams and Nolan Edmonds, who’ll join the team in June, also are options.
“All of sudden you’ve got guys like Mohamad Ibrahim, Dominik London, Femi-Cole,” Fleck said. “Then the freshmen coming in, you are going to see Bryce Williams, you are going to see Nolan Edmonds. Guys like that are going to have to be in there to step up, which is perfect because we knew that one of the freshmen was going to have to contribute somehow, some way — maybe even both of them.”