P.J. Fleck swapped out his maroon for purple Tuesday.
The Gophers coach sported a purple shirt as he patrolled the field, complete with Vikings motifs in the end zones and on the 50-yard-line. The coach moved practice from Athletes Village on campus to TCO Performance Center, the NFL team’s new training facility in Eagan.
Fleck said he wanted the change of setting to reinvigorate his squad after several weeks of spring practice, which culminate in the spring game Saturday.
“It’s a tremendous experience for our young people,” Fleck said. “They get to come practice in an NFL facility. It’s simulating a road-type game. We’re doing everything we can to simulate every possible scenario and situation in the spring so we’re ready for it in the fall.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Blaise Andries said having to bus to a foreign place but still perform at a high level is helpful for the team, especially the several new faces. Senior defensive lineman Carter Coughlin, though, was maybe more excited from a fan perspective. The Eden Prairie native is a big Minnesota sports fan and had never before played on a Vikings’ field.
“I’ve never seen this place, but I mean, it’s beautiful. It felt really good to practice outside,” Coughlin said, despite it being 40 degrees and windy. “… It’s cool for us.”
Fleck had some high praise for his new defensive line coach Jim Panagos, saying he has changed his position group.
“You can just see the energy, the passion, the desire,” Fleck said. “And not that we didn’t have it before, but Jim Panagos, there’s a realism to him. I mean, it’s so authentic and so real, and he pulls it out of you. Those guys want to do it for him.”
Coughlin said Panagos is helping him become a better player through refining all of the player’s previous experience.
“Coach Panagos is unbelievable, seriously,” Coughlin said. “First of all, he is such a good dude. I mean, I go in his office every day just to talk. He’s super high energy. He’s got, like, a different pass-rush philosophy than any of the other coaches that I’ve had.”
Spring game update
Much like last season, the Gophers spring game will include the fun aspect of a draft, which takes place Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and Coughlin will coach and captain one team while defensive coordinator Joseph Rossi and redshirt senior running back Rodney Smith will lead the other.
Coughlin said many of the older players, like himself, will take limited series, and Fleck added redshirt sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim to that list. He mentioned redshirt freshman Preston Jelen and sophomore Bryce Williams as the two players earning the most reps at that position, but he also hinted at some “guest appearances.”
And while an impending snowstorm this Thursday might throw off spring game plans, Fleck assured there are contingencies in place.
“We’re definitely having a spring game,” he said. “We’re not going to cancel. It’s too fun not to.”