P.J. Fleck wants his first spring game with the Gophers to be a fun experience for fans Saturday, but the new coach hopes everyone understands the adjusted format.
As Fleck has noted, the Gophers have 22 players recovering from surgery. At times this spring, they’ve had only four healthy offensive linemen at practice, limiting their 11-on-11 drills.
They were back to five healthy linemen Tuesday, but they’ll have to get through Thursday’s practice before they’ll know how much full-speed scrimmaging they can do Saturday.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a different spring game,” Fleck said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a game within a bunch of drills.”
With free admission for the event at TCF Bank Stadium, Fleck plans to play four 15-minute quarters with running time. The clock will keep ticking, even when the Gophers are doing drills.
Fleck said he’s still excited to show fans how his staff runs practice. And like always, Gophers players will sign autographs on the field afterward.
They’re not the only Big Ten team with scaled-down plans. Northwestern has gone with a glorified practice for its spring game for years.
“I would love to be able to have scrimmages every weekend that fans can come to, but we just don’t have enough bodies,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
When position groups are thin, healthy players take more reps, “which ups their risk for injury,” Fitzgerald said.
“Maybe about five or six years ago, working with our marketing department, we wanted to make sure we were pretty clear to our fans to set their expectations that unfortunately we just can’t do [a full game],” he said.
O-line depth coming
The Gophers have three starting offensive linemen — Jared Weyler, Garrison Wright and Vincent Calhoun — recovering from surgery.
Last weekend, they signed Ben Davis to transfer in this summer from American River College in Sacramento, Calif. He started at offensive tackle last year but probably fits best with the Gophers at guard or center, offensive line coach Ed Warinner said.
“He is a hard-playing, tough, physical guy,” Warinner said. “He loves football, trains hard in the weight room. Smart. He went to junior college to get recruited at a higher level, not because he didn’t qualify, so he’s a very high-intelligence guy. From a really good family.”
What about Andries?
In 20 years as an offensive line coach, Warinner hasn’t had many true freshmen play for him, but it happened last year when Michael Jordan started at left guard for Ohio State. Now, the Gophers’ top incoming recruit is Marshall offensive lineman Blaise Andries.
“He is an outstanding talent,” Warinner said. “He is up here every Saturday to watch practice and learn as much as he can. The way it works is, when you’re ready, you’re ready. So if a freshman is ready, we are going to play him.
“If he can learn the intensity level, the techniques, the system and he is ready to help, we will throw him in. We are not bringing him in here to redshirt him. We are bringing him in here to contribute.”
Warinner said that goes for Andries “or anyone else in the freshman class.”