The Gophers will go into the 2018 football season thinner at running back than they had hoped.
Coach P.J. Fleck announced Tuesday that senior running back Shannon Brooks will miss the 2018 season because of a non-contact, lower leg injury suffered during the last days of winter conditioning. Fleck said Brooks will redshirt this season and return for the 2019 season.
“That’s unfortunate and obviously that is not the news that everyone wants to hear, not what I want to hear, but I will tell you what, he’s been incredibly positive about it,’’ Fleck said. “He sees it as kind of a blessing in his own eyes in how he can continue to mature and how he can get better and obviously be back in 2019.’’
Brooks has rushed for 1,728 yards and 17 touchdowns in 28 games in his Gophers career. He led the team in rushing with 709 yards as a freshman in 2015, added 650 yards in 2016 and was limited to six games and 369 yards last year.
Brooks’ injury shifts more of the burden to senior Rodney Smith, the Gophers’ leading rusher with 977 yards last year and 1,58 yards and 16 TDs in 2016. “What that creates is Rodney Smith — we all know what Rodney Smith can do,’’ Fleck said.
Also in the mix for playing time at running back will be junior Jonathan Femi-Cole and redshirt freshmen Mohamed Ibrahim and Dominik London and incoming freshmen Bryce Williams and Nolan Edmonds.
“We knew that one of the freshmen was going to have to contribute somehow some way,’’ Fleck said. “Now they have to contribute somehow some way, maybe even both of them, mixed with the spare — the pair and the spare are going to be by committee until we find out who those guys are.
Other highlights from Fleck’s news conference before Tuesday’s opening day of spring practice:
** The quarterback competition will feature players who have yet to throw a pass for the Gophers: redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan, sophomore junior college transfer Vic Viramontes, sophomore Seth Green and true freshman Zack Annexstad. “Whoever plays for us in the fall, that will be their first pass ever,’’ Fleck said. “That’s exciting to me. … Who can you develop for a long hall?’’
Fleck said Morgan has natural leadership ability. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He is a winner.’’
Fleck said Green, a former East Ridge standout, has had a tremendous offseason but left open the possibility of Green switching positions. “Seth Green might be one of our better athletes,’’ Fleck said. “Is he going to be a quarterback? We’ll find out in the spring. Seth and I have had very open talks about some things. You might see him on some special teams. … But he’s right in the thick of the quarterback battle.’’
Fleck said he would prefer to have one quarterback as his starter but left open the possibility that he could use two. “Every option is open,’’ he said.
** Junior Carter Coughlin will remain at a defensive end/outside linebacker position, though he might play more linebacker during spring because of depth issues. Linebackers Thomas Barber and Blake Cashman underwent offseason surgeries and will be limited to group work and noncontact drills in spring practice.
** Redshirt freshman Blaise Andries has moved from offensive tackle to offensive guard. “Thank goodness we redshirted Blaise Andries [last year] and didn’t get selfish,’’ Fleck said.
** Fleck said he wasn’t sure if 6-9, 400-pound true freshman Daniel Faalele will play guard or tackle. “Being an inside zone team, I’d prefer him being a guard,’’ he said. “That’s a big guard. But he could be a tackle. … He’s going to get a ton of reps in the spring.’’
** Sophomore Nate Umlor, who played defensive end last year, has moved to an interior defensive line position.