The Gophers tight ends have become a force up front recently, helping the offensive line in allowing just one sack and spurring the Gophers to more than 650 rushing yards in the past two games.
But that unit endured some injury woes last Saturday against Nebraska, when both Jake Paulson and Ko Kieft left early with injuries.
“Jake practiced today in a lot of the certain things we were doing,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Tuesday. “We held him out of one or two drills. But Ko did not practice today.”
Those two have been tough blockers. Paulson also has four catches this year but dropped what would have been a sure touchdown against Nebraska. Fellow tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford has mostly played behind those two, though he has the only touchdown catch in the unit and could see more action if Kieft cannot play.
Fleck also said that defensive back Benny Sapp III, a special teams player who did not suit up last weekend, is back. Fleck said the same of right tackle Daniel Faalele, who also missed the Nebraska game, adding on his radio show that the sophomore practiced Tuesday.
With Rutgers firing coach Chris Ash four games into this season as well as its offensive coordinator, Nunzio Campanile is now in charge of the 1-5 squad. The Scarlet Knights are also on their third-string quarterback and without one of their top running backs in Raheem Blackshear.
Fleck said he thinks Campanile is handling a “difficult situation” very well, though all those new faces can make game-planning tricky. But the Gophers have experience in that, facing unfamiliar personnel from players to coaches in every game this season.
“The hard part is you don’t know what you’re going to see all the time,” Fleck said. “… Coaches like to know exactly what you’re going to see, and what you’re going to get because you can plan on that. It’s the contingency plans that throughout the game time adjustments — which it seems like almost our whole season has been that way, at least half of it — that we’ve got to be ready for everything.”
Depth chart addition
Fleck added a new name to his depth chart Tuesday, with offensive lineman Axel Ruschmeyer bumped up to second-string right guard behind Curtis Dunlap Jr.
“I feel like he really deserves it,” Fleck said of the sophomore. “And he’s working really hard to be a better football player.”
On his radio show, Fleck mentioned his plan is to redshirt freshman Cam Wiley, who has played in just one game this season (he can play in as many as four and still be redshirted). He also said that’s a possibility for sophomore Bryce Williams, who ended up being the No. 2 back last season when seniors Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks missed most of the year with injuries. With those two back, plus sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim, that trio will carry the Gophers most of this year, barring any injury setbacks.