Fleck ‘Excited’ about Frosh Wide Receiver
Enjoy a Monday notes column on University of Minnesota football.
With official Gopher football practices underway, it will be intriguing to watch freshman wide receiver Rashod Bateman. “I am excited to see what he can do,” said Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck.
A four-star recruit in high school, per 247/Sports and Rivals, the Tifton, Georgia native had 83 receptions for 1,539 yards and 21 touchdowns during his senior prep season. He was good enough that national power Georgia tried to persuade him to change the verbal commitment he made to the Gophers in June of 2017.
The anticipation is Bateman will bring speed, explosiveness and big play ability to the Minnesota wide receivers position. Fleck hopes the production and depth at that position will be improving with the addition of Bateman, return of potential All-Big Ten junior wide receiver Tyler Johnson, and the maturity of redshirt sophomore Phillip Howard and redshirt freshmen Demetrius Douglas and Chris Autman-Bell.
Another pass receiver of note could be tight end and converted quarterback Seth Green. Since switching positions earlier in the year, the 6-4, 240-pound redshirt sophomore has apparently impressed Fleck who talked about doing “creative things” in the offense with the former East Ridge quarterback from Woodbury.
In Fleck’s first season of 2017 the Minnesota offense didn’t utilize the tight end much for receiving and running. That might be changing some with Green and the addition of true freshman Brevyn Spann-Ford, the 6-7, 260-pound athletic tight end from St. Cloud.
Who will be throwing to these receivers? Well, for sure someone with no college game experience. The QB roster consists of true freshman Zack Annexstad, and redshirt freshmen Tanner Morgan, Sam Pickerign and Jon Santanga.
Fleck predicts a “neck and neck” competition between Annexstad and Morgan. Both are likely to play significant minutes in nonconference games, with Morgan the better bet to emerge as the starter because of his experience being in the program longer.
Neither may ever be grouped with the Big Ten’s most physically talented quarterbacks but both already show leadership skills. That’s extremely important to Fleck.
The quarterbacks will have one of the conference’s best centers to work with in redshirt senior Jared Weyler. He’s a steady blocker in both the running and passing games. He can also deliver consistent and sure snaps to the quarterbacks, and help get each play lined up properly.
Quarterback concerns have been an issue in past years at Minnesota. “They’ve struggled for so long at the quarterback spot, and that’s one foot in the grave in this league,” an anonymous Big Ten coach said in a July 31 article by Athlonsports.com. “They’ve got to get that figured out. There’s no one on that roster from last year that scares you.”
Weyler is part of an offensive line unit that has more depth than last season and includes another talented senior in redshirt tackle Donnell Greene, 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds. “He is going to be a heck of a force up front,” Weyler said.
Fleck said he isn’t sure if four-star true freshman offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap Jr. is a tackle or guard. What he does know is the Florida native is huge at 6-5, 370-pounds.
Athon also quoted an anonymous Big Ten coach about Minnesota redshirt sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. who missed most of last season with an injury: “…If he played at a bigger program, he’d be all anyone was talking about in this league.”
Fleck said the Gophers rank No. 126 out of 128 for inexperience among college football teams. The roster is dominated by freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Minnesota has only nine scholarship seniors.
The coach said the new NCAA redshirt rule allowing programs to use players in as many as four games without losing a season of eligibility came at the right time for the inexperienced Gophers. Minnesota players, including freshmen, will not know when they might be asked to play in a game. “Always stay focused,” Fleck said.
Gophers’ junior linebacker Thomas Barber from Plymouth comes from a Minnesota legacy family but said his relatives don’t provide football input. Barber, who is on the Butkus Award watch list for the nation’s best linebacker, was preceded at Minnesota by his dad Marion Jr., and brothers Marion III and Dom—all major contributors to the program.
Junior linebacker Carter Coughlin continues to work on gaining weight and strength. The 6-foot-4 former Eden Prairie all-stater said his weight is now over 235 pounds and believes he could eventually top 245 while playing at Minnesota.
Coughlin smiled when it was brought to his attention the team media guide already lists him at 245.
The national and regional media have made the Gophers a consensus pick to finish next to last in the seven-team Big Ten West Division. Coughlin sees things differently. “We’re going to shock some people,” he said. “Wake some people up.”
The late Bruce Smith, the great Gopher halfback from Faribault, won the Heisman Trophy in 1941. He is the only Gopher ever to win the award and there is a display recognizing him at the new Athletes Village. Fleck showed June Smith, Bruce’s sister, the display last week.