CHICAGO — P.J. Fleck made his debut in front of the assembled Big Ten media on Tuesday morning and displayed his typical energy and excitement.
The No. 1 topic entering fall camp will be the open quarterback competition. Fleck said senior Conor Rhoda and sophomore Demry Croft separated themselves slightly in spring practice but that redshirt freshman Seth Green and true freshman Tanner Morgan are “not far behind those guys.”
Fleck said he doesn’t know who will ultimately win that competition or give a timetable for when he’ll announce his starter.
(Quick note: You can read more on Fleck’s official Big Ten introduction here (‘Honeymoon stage’ is over) and here (Fleck put on a show this morning), and below you’ll find some actual football updates.)
“I wish I had answer,” he said. “I wish I had somebody in the spring that just took it, ran with it and just said, ‘It’s my job.’ I want somebody to take this and say, ‘This is going to be my football team.’ ”
I asked Fleck if he would consider playing both Rhoda and Croft in a platoon system.
“I can’t answer that question yes or no,” he said. “I’m not a big two-quarterback-system guy. I believe in [picking] a guy and let’s go. But if we have to and we feel that’s the best formula, that nobody has taken the job, then we will. But I would like to stay away from that for leadership purposes.”
Injuries, and even recoveries, complicate things
The other big offseason story was injuries. So many players needed surgeries that it delayed the evaluation process for the new coaching staff, which makes fall camp even more important in terms of establishing roles and a two-deep.
“We’re getting guys cleared but the problem with just getting them cleared is, you’re cleared to do what now?” Fleck said. “Start lifting, start running, start conditioning, start practice, start hitting. There’s all these different starts. That’s what we’re facing. The biggest offseason challenge we have is, everybody says, how is your football team? I haven’t seen 22 of these guys actually practice at all. I haven’t seen them in our system. I haven’t seen how they respond to major adversity on the field.”
Cashman in hybrid role
Fleck said Blake Cashman will play a hybrid role on defense, including some time at a rush end, much like converted linebacker Carter Coughlin.
Cashman led the Gophers in sacks last season with 7.5 and earned Holiday Bowl defensive MVP as a pass-rushing specialist at linebacker.
The Gophers are so thin along the defensive line that coordinator Robb Smith will use some 3-4 scheme principles in his 4-3 base defense.
That includes moving linebackers such as Coughlin and Cashman up on the line because linebacker is the team’s deepest position.
“Our rush end is kind of a glorified outside 3-4 linebacker,” Fleck said. “We’re a 4-3, but that’s what he kind of is. He’s on the line of scrimmage all the time. So we put Carter down there. That gives us a chance to put a Kamal Martin on the field [who] is long and can run and has a ton of athleticism.
“Then you have Blake Cashman. You might see him on third-down packages. Listen, we’re going to be incredibly creative. You might see Blake Chasman at the defensive line on one side and Carter on the other side. You might see him at linebacker, at rush end. We have to be very creative this year because of our lack of depth [along the line].”
Follow along live today on Twitter: @ChipScoggins