P.J. Fleck has moved into his office at the Gophers' new football facility, and it favorably compares with any college football coach's office in the country. With the team getting ready to open spring practice March 6, it was time for an update from the head coach.
As spring practice approaches, Fleck is confident that seven recruits who enrolled in January, including junior college quarterback Vic Viramontes, will help the team to a better finish than the Gophers' 5-7 mark last season, even though it appears they have a tougher schedule with Big Ten road games at Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Fleck talked about his early impressions of Viramontes, the top-ranked junior college quarterback in the country.
"I haven't watched him throw yet; we're not allowed to watch anybody throw," Fleck said. "Players are doing a lot of things on their own. But I do like how he has come in here and attacked the workouts. He is doing a great job in the weight room and in meetings with coaches.
"He's very attentive. Our whole quarterback room is, [which is important] because whatever quarterback plays for us this year isn't going to have any [Gophers] experience from the past to really fall back on."
The seven enrollees already on campus are quarterbacks Viramontes and Zach Annexstad; offensive linemen Curtis Dunlap, Daniel Faalele and Nathan Boe; linebacker Thomas Rush and defensive end Alex Reigelsperger.
Fleck said they all show great athletic ability.
"I think it has been beneficial for them to come in right now because they're really getting the program and how it works," he said. "They're working really hard. We'll find out more about those young guys once we hit spring ball, but I'm proud of all of those guys by the way they have come in here and really adopted the culture … very quickly, a culture they picked, and they've done nothing but impress us in the first few months of being here."
Fleck usually doesn't like to put early expectations on new players to the program, which also includes defensive back Bishop McDonald and wide receiver True Thompson as transfers, but he said most of this group will see action.
"They're going to have to help us," he said.
One of the big handicaps to Fleck's first season was the large number of injuries and surgeries during the 2017 offseason. The Gophers had 22 players out with injuries, and in spring practice they could hardly field a full offensive line.
This year the team is much healthier.
"We didn't have as many surgeries at all," Fleck said. "I think we had five or six offseason surgeries, something like that. Those took place right after the season. So all of those surgical guys will definitely be involved in spring ball somehow, some way."
Fleck added that senior running back Shannon Brooks, who was hampered by an assortment of injuries all of last year, will be back and ready to go. He rushed for 369 yards and five touchdowns in six games in 2017.
Fleck also is confident defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. (hamstring) and wide receiver Demetrius Douglas (undisclosed injury) will get medical redshirts.
"It looks like we will be able to get the year for them. I think we will," he said. "We wouldn't have [applied] if we didn't think we could. We feel strongly we are getting that."
Early signing period
Fleck said the new early December signing period is something he continues to appreciate.
"I think it gives us the opportunity to get ahead on the next year's class for the whole month of January and really use that as the old head coaches' May recruiting," he said. "That has really been beneficial for us, including going into 2019."
Fleck said he and his staff already have held two junior days and further assessed the Gophers' recruiting progress.
"You always have to make sure you recruit your own state really hard, which we are," Fleck said. "But our coaches have done a great job of identifying 2019s. We've had a lot of our top recruits already on campus multiple times. We look forward to a lot of official visits starting here in April."
While the Gophers staff can't talk about it, they recently had a visit from four-star offensive lineman John Olmstead out of New Jersey.
Fleck said the eight preferred walk-ons the team announced earlier in February will be a huge help.
"This year we're going to have, I think, 71 percent of our team is underclassmen," he said. "We're going to have to have a lot of young guys step up and help us. We finally have what we call depth. Next year it will be very competitive depth, because we'll have a lot more of it. But we're finally getting to a point right now where we at least have the numbers, and that helps us.
"We still need one or two recruiting classes to come in here and fix some of the things we have, but it's a great start."
While Fleck lost some of his assistant coaches in the offseason, he said he understands that kind of turnover. Fleck's belief is that you want to attract great talent, and when they leave continue that process with the next hire. One of his newest coaches is tight ends coach Clay Patterson.
"An incredible offensive mind," Fleck said of Patterson, who was head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for two seasons before joining the Gophers. "He's from that Baylor [coaching] tree. He's a young, dynamic coach who is up and coming, smart, a great recruiter. He'll be able to handle Oklahoma and Texas in recruiting for us."
• The NCAA men's basketball selection show will be March 11, televised for the first time this year by TBS instead of CBS. But for the 2019 Final Four, which will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium, the selection show will once again be handled by CBS, which also will broadcast the Final Four semifinals and national championship game from Minneapolis.
• Former Gophers pitcher Dalton Sawyer, who declined a chance to sign with the Twins when he was drafted in the 27th round in 2015, might surface in the major leagues this season with the Oakland Athletics. Sawyer, who was picked in the ninth round in 2016, led all pitchers in the A's farm system in strikeouts last year with 140 strikeouts over 130⅔ innings. He posted a cumulative 3.58 ERA for three A's minor league teams.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. email@example.com