P.J. Fleck is being secretive about the Gophers offense. Secretive even by the standard coaching book.

Football coaches tend to treat training camp as if they are guarding nuclear launch codes. They don't want outsiders (opponents) knowing what they are working on, how they are using personnel, whether they have new wrinkles in scheme or what flavor of sports drinks they serve at dinner.

Fleck installed co-offensive coordinators, Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh, this season after Kirk Ciarrocca departed for Rutgers. Fleck has declined to reveal which coach will call plays in games because, well, he would like to keep Nebraska guessing before the opener, though it's unclear what competitive advantage the Cornhuskers would gain by knowing that information.

Maybe this is just an example of coaching subterfuge, but the guess here is that something else is at play. My theory is that Fleck's offense is undergoing a fundamental change and he prefers not to share it yet.

Fleck's coaching philosophy is new age in every way except offense. In that area, he's as old school as linebacker neck rolls. If he could win a game running the ball 60 consecutive times, Fleck would do it and then treat himself to a steak dinner and nice bottle of wine.

In his first six seasons in Dinkytown, Fleck's offense never averaged more than 26 passes per game for the season. The Gophers finished two seasons averaging fewer than 20 passes per game. Their national ranking by season in average pass attempts under Fleck: 124, 106, 111, 105, 127 and 126.

As much as he loves a good old-fashioned ground-and-pound ball-control offense, Fleck knows that every offense should play to its strengths. And until this point in his tenure, Year 7, the quarterback has not been the strength of his offense.

Now, Athan Kaliakmanis holds the keys.

Bell cow back Mohamed Ibrahim is no longer the face or focal point of the offense. Everything now revolves around the strong-armed Kaliakmanis, who showed glimpses of his high upside as a part-time starter last season.

Fleck cautioned in December not to expect a version of the Air Raid attack, but the Gophers should no longer hang out with the service academies in college football's dwindling group of run-centric offenses.

The 2022 regular-season finale at Wisconsin provided clues for how the offense could function, if not a blueprint. Kaliakmanis attempted 29 passes, completing 19 for 319 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a handful of deep passes and looked in total control against a defense ranked top 15 nationally.

The Gophers might never be labeled a "passing" offense under Fleck, but the makeup of the 2023 offense leans more that direction than previously.

Kaliakmanis has all the physical tools necessary to excel. Fleck's staff made the receiver position a priority in recruiting and the result is a deep, experienced group.

The addition of portal transfers Corey Crooms Jr. and Elijah Spencer, combined with returners Daniel Jackson, Chris Autman-Bell and Le'Meke Brockington, transforms that position into a team strength.

And there is also future NFL tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, who should hold a significant role in the passing game. The 6-7, 270-pound Spann-Ford caught seven passes against Wisconsin, and that should be the target goal — at a minimum — every game this season.

Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler is the presumptive starter at running back. Roles behind him are still being earned and defined in practice. Still, Fleck's stated desire to have a 50-50 run-pass balance is not only practical but should be an edict.

"We're going to be an efficient offense," said Jackson, a junior wide receiver. "Whatever is called, we're going to make the most out of it."

Kaliakmanis showed off his arm talent at a practice open to the media this past week. He completed two high-arching bombs of 50-plus yards for touchdowns. The youngster can sling it.

"He's a super-talented kid," right guard Quinn Carroll said.

Fleck knows that better than anyone, which is why life without Ibrahim inevitably means the offense will not only look different but function differently, too.


The starting time for Tuesday's Gophers football practice at Athletes Village, which will be open to the public, has been changed to 10:45 a.m. It originally was scheduled for 3:30 p.m.