One of P.J. Fleck’s most important selling jobs since taking over as Gophers coach came when he convinced sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr., not to transfer.
Winfield, who was named a freshman All-America safety last year by Pro Football Focus, was one of the 10 Gophers players disciplined for their roles in an alleged September sexual assault last year.
The University’s office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action recommended a one-year suspension for Winfield.
His father, former Vikings defensive back Antoine Winfield Sr., told reporters his son likely would transfer.
But Fleck flew to Texas and convinced Winfield to stick things out with the new coaching staff.
The safety has since won two appeals and had his punishment thrown out.
After a dominant performance in Saturday’s practice, Winfield was at it again Tuesday. On one play, Conor Rhoda threw a pass for Tyler Johnson, but Winfield jumped and tipped the ball to himself for an interception.
Facing cornerback depth issues, Fleck said Winfield might play three different roles: safety, nickel and cornerback.
“He can do a lot of things,” Fleck said. “He is one of the best athletes, and I think one of the best people.
“He is an unbelievable young man.”
Big crowd at practice
About 500 people attended Tuesday’s practice, the first one open to the public this spring. The Gophers had guests wear green wrist bands and ran out after issuing 400.
Fleck was clearly pleased. He shot a video thanking the fans, which the Gophers quickly blasted over social media.
“Next Tuesday’s practice is also open, so grab four of your friends, or grab your family and show them what the Gopher culture is all about,” Fleck said.
Coughlin on the edge
When the Gophers break into position drills, the linebackers get together, and Carter Coughlin works separately in a group with Tai’yon Devers and Trenton Guthrie. They play the ‘R’ position, rushing off the edge.
“You talk about selfless people,” Fleck said. “Carter is a linebacker, and he knows for him to get on the field and Kamal [Martin] to get on the field, and [Jon] Celestin and Jaylen [Waters], we all have to sacrifice a little bit.
“The ‘R’ is a fun role — rush end — because you do so much. You’re not just rushing straight up the field. You are stunting. You are covering. You are dropping into man-on-man. You are dropping into a zone. You are standing up. Your hand is on the ground. There are a ton of things that they have to do.”
• Offensive lineman Quinn Oseland limped off the field Saturday because of a left knee injury. “He’s going to be out a few weeks here, but he’s going to heal up nicely,” Fleck said.
• Senior tight end Brandon Lingen is working his way back from foot surgery. “The one thing about that injury is if you come back too quick, you could be right back to step one that quickly,” Fleck said.
• With Jalen Mayfield’s de-commitment Sunday, the Gophers’ have seven commitments for the Class of 2018 and still sit 15th nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Mayfield, an offensive lineman from Grand Rapids, Mich., announced he was reopening his options after getting an offer from Michigan.