Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday that two tight ends — Lincoln Plsek and Duke Anyanwu — might miss the entire season because of back and knee injuries, respectively.
Kill said senior safety Damarius Travis is “very questionable” for Saturday’s game at Colorado State because of an unspecified injury. The coach said “three or four” defensive players “need to get healed up.”
Kill was lamenting the team’s misfortune, but he had some positive news, too. Offensive tackle Josh Campion has returned from his concussion and is expected to play Saturday, and Kill said he hopes receiver Isaiah Gentry can return from his hamstring injury for next week’s game against Kent State.
Of all these developments, having Campion back might be the most critical to the Gophers, as they try to avoid an 0-2 start. The senior started every game for three seasons before missing this year’s opener against TCU.
“Huge,” Kill said. “I mean, it’s huge.”
Kill said left tackle Ben Lauer hasn’t been able to do much this week with his surgically repaired left knee. The plan is to keep Jonah Pirsig at left tackle, with Campion at right tackle, and Foster Bush in reserve.
The coaches still are kicking themselves for letting Lauer play against TCU. Defensive end Terrell Lathan blew past him twice, including the play in which he forced Mitch Leidner to fumble, giving TCU the ball on Minnesota’s 15-yard line.
Once the Gophers moved Pirsig to left tackle, with Bush at right tackle, TCU’s pressure relented.
“But that was too late,” Kill said. “I don’t blame [Lauer], I blame us. I blame me.”
Not having Travis would be another tough blow for the Gophers, as he had a team-high 10 tackles against TCU. Entering August, the biggest concern defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys had was the team’s inexperience at safety behind Travis and fellow senior starter Antonio Johnson, who had nine tackles against TCU.
Junior college transfer Ace Rogers (six tackles) and sophomore walk-on Adekunle Ayinde (one) were the other two safeties who played in the opener. The Gophers also have sophomore Duke McGhee, who played in nine games last season. After that, they might have to turn to true freshman Dior Johnson.
At tight end, the Gophers entered the year knowing they’d have to replace Maxx Williams and Drew Goodger. Plsek would have been a starter before the back injury, and Anyanwu would have challenged for playing time.
Anyanwu has had ACL surgeries on both knees and had a cleanup procedure on one knee during training camp.
“It’s unfortunate,” Kill said. “[Anyanwu has] seen several doctors, and he’s been sore all camp. Hopefully for his sake he can get through it. Lincoln Plsek’s out too, our starting tight end — he may not play this year either. That’s a question mark.”
Kill did say he’s pleased with how Brandon Lingen and Nate Wozniak have played at tight end. And the offensive line situation is improving.
Kill said the 6-9, 324-pound Pirsig is playing “unbelievably well.” Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover added, “[Pirsig] works very hard at his craft and understands he’s got a great opportunity beyond here to be able to go and continue to play football and make money.”
Next week, Gentry’s return could be a boost at receiver. Kill has said Gentry would be a starter, if healthy.
“We know what he can do,” Kill said. “He’s dynamite. So we need him back, too.”