The Gophers’ new left tackle, Garrison Wright, graduated from Marysville (Kan.) High School, a fierce rival for coach Tracy Claeys back when he played offensive tackle at Clay Center High.
“Couldn’t stand them — the Bulldogs,” Claeys said Wednesday. “Like anything with a rivalry, they probably won more than we did. It was a good rivalry and 60 miles away.”
Claeys easily set aside those differences when he recruited Wright out of Butler (Kan.) Community College last year. Wright picked Minnesota over an offer from TCU, even though Claeys had no offensive line coach while replacing Matt Limegrover.
“I really liked [Claeys] as a coach,” Wright said. “So I trusted him a lot to bring in a guy that was going to fit this program.”
Claeys wound up hiring Bart Miller, 31, who has drawn rave reviews after spending the past two seasons as offensive line coach at Florida Atlantic and at New Mexico State and Wisconsin before that.
“He’s an intense guy,” Wright said. “He expects things done the right way, and that’s what he holds us to. And we have a lot of fun doing that and learning from him.”
Tight end Brandon Lingen (shoulder) has been cleared for contact and will play against Indiana State if all goes well in practice, Claeys said. Lingen is expected to be a key part of the offense this season after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season.
Running back Shannon Brooks (broken foot) won’t play against Indiana State, but Claeys said there’s a “good chance” Brooks returns after the bye week for the Sept. 24 game against Colorado State.
In Brooks’ absence, Rodney Smith had 25 carries for 125 yards against Oregon State. Kobe McCrary, the only other tailback to play, had two carries for 4 yards.
Johnson’s role to grow
With receiver Rashad Still expected to miss four weeks because of a shoulder injury, this likely will mean more playing time for freshman Tyler Johnson.
The Minneapolis North grad had three receptions for 31 yards in last week’s opener against Oregon State. He also threw a key block on Mitch Leidner’s first touchdown run.
“He’s already made a ton of growth from our first throwing session in the summer,” Leidner said. “I would have never been able to guess that he would be able to play this year. I was watching how raw he was right away.”
Johnson was a quarterback and safety in high school, but in less than a year he’s made the transition to college receiver.
“To have a true freshman come in, local talent that came and did the things he does was exceptional,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “Now, there are many technique and fundamental things that he has to improve upon, but that’s somewhat expected. When the play came his way, he made the play. Very ecstatic about him.”
Praise for Robinson
With Wednesday’s news that J Robinson had been fired after 30 years as Gophers wrestling coach, Claeys was asked about Robinson’s legacy.
“Done a heck of a job here. Won a lot of wrestling matches — the national championships,” Claeys said. “I think he’s well-respected and just so happens that it didn’t end on a good note. But he’s done an awful lot of good things for the University of Minnesota.”