When Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca left for Rutgers in January, coach P.J. Fleck quickly promoted tight ends coach Greg Harbaugh, teaming him with wide receivers coach Matt Simon as co-offensive coordinator.
What Fleck didn't indicate in January is who will be calling the plays for the Gophers. Two months later, Fleck still hasn't announced his play-caller.
"We're going to keep that internal just for right now," Fleck said Tuesday, on the opening of spring practice.
Fleck noted Simon's experience in calling plays in two Gophers bowl games and Harbaugh's time calling plays at Western Michigan. Simon was named co-offensive coordinator in January of 2020.
"They both called plays, and they are good," Fleck said, later adding, "Eventually one guy is going to call plays."
Whoever ends up in that role for the Gophers will be doing so with a whole new offense, especially in the run game. Gone are second-team All-America running back Mohamed Ibrahim, four-year starting quarterback Tanner Morgan and first-team All-America center John Michael Schmitz.
"We're definitely going to look different because it's a different team," Fleck said.
Fleck said quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, who left the Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl because of a leg injury, is ready for spring practice. "He's fine," Fleck said. "He recovered very nicely."
Filling the backfield void
Largely because Ibrahim is off to the NFL and Trey Potts, Minnesota's second-leading rusher with 474 yards in 2022, is in the transfer portal, the Gophers lost 82.9% of their rushing yards from last season. How will they replace it?
The transfer portal, a veteran holdover and a couple of highly regarded freshmen might supply the answer.
Sean Tyler joined the Gophers after spending four seasons at Western Michigan, rushing for 1,027 yards and seven TD in 2022 and 1,161 yards and nine TDs in 2021.
"He's got legit speed,'' Fleck said of Tyler. "… He's explosive. He can work really well in space. He's a jitterbug, and he's really strong."
The Gophers' most productive returning running back is senior Bryce Williams, who has 974 yards and 11 TDs in his career.
Then come redshirt freshman Zach Evans and true freshman Darius Taylor.
Evans, a standout at Rockwall-Heath (Texas) High School, suffered a foot injury during training camp last summer and was limited to one game. He rushed for 1,957 yards and 26 TDs as a high school senior.
The gem of the Gophers' 2023 recruiting class is four-star running back Taylor, an early enrollee who rushed for 2,450 yards and 36 TDs for Walled Lake (Mich.) Western High School. The 5-11, 195-pound freshman was rated the 12th-best running back nationally by Rivals.com in the 2023 class.
The running back group also will have a new assistant coach. Kenni Burns left to become head coach at Kent State, and former Northern Illinois running backs coach Nic McKissic-Luke took his place.