The Gophers have already lost one player who opted out of the season, and coach P.J. Fleck “can’t predict” whether there will be more.
But he does know he won’t judge them if they do.
“You give them a choice,” Fleck said. “… If a player decides he’s going to play, he’s going to have support from me. But what I’ve also told my team is: It’s your decision. Don’t influence someone else to play if you’re going to play. … We all have our own circumstances, and we have our own families, and we all have our own choices to make. But if you’re not going to play, don’t influence somebody who wants to play.”
So far, Rashod Bateman, Big Ten Receiver of the Year in 2019, is the only Gophers player sitting out the season, focusing on the 2021 NFL draft. About 30 players from across Division I have made similar decisions.
Zack is back
Quarterback Zack Annexstad will return healthy this season, Fleck said Friday. Annexstad was the starter in 2018 before injuries halfway through the season sidelined him and Tanner Morgan took over. Morgan then started all of last season, setting a handful of single-season passing records, after Annexstad had foot surgery early in training camp.
“The addition of Mike Sanford [Jr., new offensive coordinator] has continued to help Zack’s development as well as all the quarterbacks,” Fleck said. “Cole [Kramer] and Jacob [Clark] have come on strong. You can tell they were working on their own when they were away.”
Always a fan of analogies, Fleck compared some of his defensive players to grasshoppers trapped in a jar, bouncing around and hitting the lid.
Well, now the lid is off — senior starters ahead of them have left.
“You see potential and talent you never saw before,” Fleck said. “… I mean, wait until you see these guys.”
Fleck said he can’t tell the difference in silhouettes from 6-6, 275-pound defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo and freshman D-lineman Jalen Logan-Redding, at 6-4, 235. Thomas Rush’s transition from linebacker to rush end this spring has made Fleck go, “Wow.” Other D-linemen such as Boye Mafe, Keonte Schad, Micah Dew-Treadway and DeAngelo Carter have put together solid offseasons. Linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, safeties Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden as well as cornerbacks Benjamin St-Juste and Coney Durr also have impressed Fleck.
“When you look at the bodies, and you look at the athleticism that we’re bringing in,” Fleck said, “it’s really exciting.”
Fleck said as of Friday, running back Cam Wiley was practicing while linebacker Braelen Oliver was not.
Wiley injured his left leg late last season and missed the final two games. Oliver did not participate in the truncated spring football because of an undisclosed injury.