Gophers coach Tracy Claeys reinstated four suspended players for Tuesday’s practice but made no promises whether they will play Saturday against Iowa.
Claeys suspended KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson for a violation of team rules before the Sept. 10 game against Indiana State. Minneapolis Police investigated a case involving the players, but Hennepin County announced Monday that it wouldn’t press charges.
During the suspension, the players worked out on their own but weren’t able to practice with the team for nearly four weeks. Asked if they could play Saturday, Claeys said, “We’ll just see. We’ll go day-by-day with it.”
Meanwhile, the Gophers have mounting injury issues at cornerback, where Hardin and Buford are two of their top players. On their injury report, the Gophers list Zo Craighton (foot) and Coney Durr (unspecified) as out. The Gophers still list Jalen Myrick and Antonio Shenault as starters, with Kiondre Thomas and Eric Amoako as backups.
Other injury news
The Gophers also list linebacker Cody Poock (shoulder) and safety Duke McGhee (concussion) as out this week, along with tight end Brandon Lingen (broken clavicle) and defensive end Tai’yon Devers (high ankle sprain).
Claeys said receiver Rashad Still (broken clavicle), linebacker Carter Coughlin (elbow) and offensive lineman Vincent Calhoun (turf toe) will practice this week, with their availability for the Iowa game uncertain.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has kept the same game week routines, despite grieving the loss of his father, Dick Johnson, who died of a heart attack Saturday.
“That’s been interesting; I’ll be honest with you,” Jay Johnson said. “I keep it in context with what he would want me to do. That is to work hard, keep challenging and those quarterbacks and our offense, and take care of the coaches, and just do it the right way. That’s constantly in the back of my mind.”
Jay Johnson choked up, as he spoke.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “He’s pretty special, so it’s been hard. People have been great. You figure out what an impact he had on people, and that’s been really special.”
Mitch Leidner said it was “pretty devastating,” getting the news after Saturday’s game, as Dick Johnson was his quarterbacks coach at Lakeville South. Leidner called him “Magic” Johnson and spoke to him by phone every Monday after Gophers games.
“He’d have some advice for me every week and some things I needed to work on,” Leidner said. “And then he’d always end with, ‘Hope [your brother] Matt’s doing great, hope your parents are doing great. Tell them I say hello.’ ”
Leidner said Magic often visited Gophers practice and sat in quarterback meetings.
“He’s just been a great mentor, just a class-act guy, someone who I was very thankful to be able to learn from,” Leidner said. “And to get the opportunity to work with his son, and learn from both of them has just been unbelievable.”
Change for Williams?
Freshman quarterback Mark Williams has a right hand injury and is redshirting this season. While the injury heals, he’s been running routes with the receivers, keeping open the possibility of a potential position change.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Williams was an all-state quarterback in Alabama but looks impressive at receiver, too.
Asked about a potential position switch for Williams, Jay Johnson said, “We’re in that process. We hope he can manage to be back here [throwing, etc.] relatively soon and get a better evaluation of where he might fit.”