When the new NCAA football rule regarding redshirts went into effect this season — with players able to participate in up to four games without using a year of eligibility — coaches suddenly became jugglers. They had to figure out which players, usually true freshmen, to use for four games or fewer and which ones they’d need for more, if not the full season.
As the Gophers (4-5 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) begin the final one-fourth of the season with Saturday’s home game against Purdue (5-4, 4-2), coach P.J. Fleck is honing those juggling skills with a pair of true freshmen, Jamaal Teague and Brevyn Spann-Ford.
Teague, a 6-3, 305-pound defensive tackle from Chicago, has played in four games, mainly because of need. He received nonconference experience against New Mexico State and Miami (Ohio), sat for the first four Big Ten games before playing the past two because of starter O.J. Smith’s head injury. Teague is listed as a co-starter with junior Royal Silver on the depth chart released Tuesday.
“I’m probably going to have to break the [redshirt] year. That’s the reality of it,” Fleck said of Teague, who has four tackles, including two for loss and one sack. “He’s not ready to play, but he’s going to play. … He does a lot of things that we don’t have right now.”
Fleck said he met with Teague on Tuesday morning to discuss the situation.
“First, I ask, ‘Is it OK if I do this?’ ” Fleck said. “He’s like, ‘Anything I can do for the team, Coach.’ ”
Teague would become the 11th Gophers true freshman this year to play in five games or more.
With Spann-Ford, Fleck wants to see what the 6-7, 250-pound St. Cloud Tech graduate can do but still preserve a year of eligibility. Spann-Ford saw brief action in the season opener and against Indiana and Illinois. Fleck has one more game with which to work.
“This guy is unbelievable. You need to be getting your Brevyn Spann-Ford jersey now,” Fleck said during his KFXN-FM radio appearance. “I would play him [more] right now, but I don’t think he’s ready yet.”
The Gophers list Spann-Ford as one of four tight ends in an “or” category as the starter. He joins redshirt freshman Jake Paulson, sophomore Ko Kieft and junior Bryce Witham. Those four comprise half of the eight tight ends on the roster.
Cashman up for award
Gophers senior linebacker Blake Cashman was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on. Each nominee must have begun his first season of play without financial aid from his university’s athletic department.
Cashman, a former Eden Prairie High School standout, leads the Gophers with 72 tackles and is second with 12 tackles for loss, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten and second on the team behind conference leader Carter Coughlin’s 14. Cashman also has one sack and three pass breakups. He was awarded a scholarship in the spring of 2017.
Minnesota’s depth chart for Saturday’s game had a couple of notable changes.
Sophomore Sam Schlueter is listed as the starter at left tackle. Senior Donnell Greene, the usual starter, missed last week’s game at Illinois because of a concussion. Greene is not listed on the depth chart this week, though Fleck said he is doing better.
At the fifth defensive back, sophomore Kiondre Thomas and senior Antonio Shenault are listed in an “or” category as the starter, but Fleck said on his KFXN-FM show that it looks as if Shenault (head injury) won’t play.