Rodney Smith is back.
Well, with one asterisk.
“It is close to 100 percent, I can feel,” the running back said of the right knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2018 season. “I won’t say that I’m 100 percent until I get tackled.”
That last question mark will have a resolution soon, as the Gophers begin training camp practice Wednesday, with the season opener a month away. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck limited Smith’s reps in spring practices but said the redshirt senior is cleared to play now. Fellow redshirt senior running back Shannon Brooks, recovering from a left knee injury, is not yet ready but will be “very shortly,” Fleck said.
Antoine Winfield Jr. suffered the team’s other major injury last season, but he recovered from his left foot injury in time for spring ball. He has one safety position locked up, but the other is “wide open,” according to Fleck.
Redshirt junior Calvin Swenson and sophomore Jordan Howden are two Fleck mentioned as options. Freshman Tyler Nubin, a four-star recruit, could play safety or corner, but Fleck plans to start him at corner.
Fleck also called that position a “wide-open competition” and the battle he’s “looking forward to the most.” Redshirt senior Chris Williamson is another name to watch in that competition.
For the second consecutive year, Fleck gave up his first training camp practice day to instead bring his team to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital for a cookout. The coach, his wife, Heather Fleck, and the players mingled with patients and their families. Some drenched running back Mohamed Ibrahim in the dunk tank while others sported matching fox face paint with receiver Rashod Bateman.
“One of the weird perceptions is that people think that this is such a burden for us, and honestly, we all enjoy it and have a great time ourselves,” wildcat quarterback Seth Green said. “… It’s a very humbling experience. It gives you a lot of perspective.”
A new commit
Just before Fleck’s news conference at the Gophers’ media day Tuesday, the coach garnered another commitment. Miles Fleming, a 5-10, 170-pound athlete projected as a defensive back, is a three-star recruit per 247Sports.com and announced his decision on Twitter. The Ohio native was initially committed to Miami Ohio but is now the 23rd member of the Gophers’ 2020 class.