To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag Monday this week. Star Tribune beat writers received many questions about the teams and leagues we cover, and each writer selected at least a couple of questions to answer. Look for a question and answer about various teams in Star Tribune print edition this week.
 
Q: We lost a lot of talent on defense this season. Do we have capable and talented players stepping in to replace them or is the defense going to take a step back and look like it did the last few seasons before 2019? – Dan Chang
A: I’d lean toward the former on this. Personally, I feel pretty good about most of the guys stepping in because basically no one is coming in with, like, minimal to no experience. On defense, you’ve got Boye Mafe, Keonte Schad and Esezi Otomewo, who made 57 tackles last season between the three of them. Mariano Sori-Marin and Braelen Oliver step in at linebacker. Sori-Marin played all three LB positions this past season and made several starts in Kamal Martin’s absence. Oliver showed terrific potential with three sack plays. The secondary has, perhaps, the biggest question marks for me, in Justus Harris at nickel and Tyler Nubin at safety. Harris has bided his time for his senior year opportunity, and Nubin is a four-star recruit who burned his redshirt last season be ready to fill in for All-America safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But I don’t anticipate such a huge regression as to be like the defenses of the past. I think D-coordinator Joe Rossi has done a really good job solidifying this unit in the past year and a half, so I’d bet on him to keep those guys on track.
 
Q: With recent success/momentum, Fleck’s rep, facilities, etc., how “on the radar” is the U nationally? Mainly asking re: recruiting ... but interested otherwise, too. – @TCampbell1980
A: Both P.J. Fleck and I have gotten this question a lot this offseason, haha. In terms of recruiting, he has said whatever raised profile from the 11-2 season hasn’t changed the kinds of athletes he and his staff recruit. They are always striving for the right fit rather than the most stars, though obviously, talent is an important quality as well. I will add that we won’t really see the effect of this past season on recruiting until this current 2021 class. There were a few bigger names that committed late to the Gophers 2020 class, like receiver Douglas Emilien. But for the most part, that class was done and dusted. The 2021 class still has a lot of spots open. As far as profile, I do think it’s fair to say the Gophers are more talked about now than in recent memory. But I still don’t think in the projections I’ve seen so far that they’re expected as a top team next year, despite ending in the top 10 this past season. I think they will need to produce another consecutive good season to not be a one-off and command that attention for longer.
 
Q: Do you believe, all things being equal (Fleck staying, [Mark] Coyle as AD). Minnesota has the ability to win a Big Ten Championship in the next three years? And a national championship in the next five? If the 2020 season happens, what teams finish top 3 in the West? – @AndyKuehnel
A: Yes (very feasible seeing the Gophers win the West, then it’s just a matter of having one good game against Ohio State in the championship, and I could see that). No (not sure five years is quite enough time to stack up against some of the blue bloods). The Gophers, Iowa, Wisconsin, in no particular order (I will not be burned by Nebraska again).
 
Q: What restaurants do you recommend for takeout? What shows do you recommend watching on quarantine? – @TonyNettleton
A: Anyone who follows me on Instagram  (@theothermegryan, it’s my brand) knows I’m very passionate about cooking and food in general. I’ve designated Thursday as my household’s Support Local Restaurants night/day. And I’ve got a list of places I’m working through that are favorites I don’t want to see close because of this. I’ll tell you a few favorites here:
  1. Tay Ho – You guys need to know this is one of my most closely guarded secrets, but this is the best pho in the Twin Cities. I have eaten pho all over the country, and this is the place I keep coming back to. They are doing takeout and delivery via the apps, serving a variety of Vietnamese foods. I literally cannot survive without this place so please join me in supporting them!
  2. Parallel – There is a 90% chance that any story you have read from me in the past year was worked on either entirely or at least in part at Parallel. It is my absolute favorite café to work from, so much so that they know my tea order before I even reach the counter. They also have incredible food, and they’ve pivoted to a new venture called Coping Mechanisms during this pandemic. You can order meals to make at home from their website and do a contactless pickup. So far they’ve made mac and cheese, Fettuccine Bolognese and a quinoa bowl. This is another place that’s vital to my well-being and productivity, so definitely help them out!
  3. Sammy’s Avenue Eatery – I wrote my Tyler Johnson story from this café on Broadway in North Minneapolis (second location on Central in Northeast!). I love their veggie wrap, available for takeout and delivery via the apps. I really enjoyed learning more about that community, and I’ve tried to stay involved in little ways past writing that story. There’s several small local restaurants over there, and I really encourage you all to try them out!
Some of my favorite places had to close temporarily (Alma, Rise Bagel Co.) so I bought gift cards online for them. Other places on my list are On’s Kitchen (my favorite Thai in the Twin Cities), Magic Noodle (hand-pulled noodles!), Ngon Vietnamese Bistro (also great pho, but fancier), Midori’s Floating World Cafe (some of the best Japanese in the Twin Cities) and Sakura (a family fave for a long time). This is a super long-winded answer, but I’m very committed to trying to give back in any way I can, even while my own industry struggles. Even things like continuing to pay for my gym membership at the YWCA, while I can’t actually work out, is now considered a charitable donation for an organization that provides vital day care services. Do what you guys can to support others at this time, financially or otherwise. Every little bit counts! Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
 
(Oh, and as for shows, I haven’t been watching a ton of new stuff, bizarrely enough. I picked up All-American on Netflix, which is like Friday Night Lights but in a big city. It’s. OK. But it is sports so I will take it, haha. Also the new All-Star season of Top Chef. Excellent.)
 
Q: What’s your comfort food of takeout or home-cooking choice during quarantine? – @KStapleton359
A: See above for my opus on takeout, haha. As for home-cooking, I’ve tried really hard to keep meals interesting and new, since clearly our surroundings don’t change much nowadays. Getting lots of different cultures in, from Indian to Japanese to Southern to Creole to Nigerian. Trying a lot of recipes I’ve put off because they’ve been too labor-intensive. But comfort-food-wise, I’ve been relying on the things I love to eat (like pasta and rice, so many carbs) and childhood favorites. I’ve recently made sukiyaki and buta dofu, which were heavy rotations on my mom’s menu when me and my sister were growing up. Also recreated Rise’s mock lox bagel, since I can’t get one for the foreseeable future. Follow me on Insta, and you can see literally everything I cook!

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