The Gophers ran their first inside contact drill of spring practice Friday, and coach P.J. Fleck saw something his team had really missed.
Or rather, someone: Antoine Winfield Jr.
“He comes down from that safety push,” Fleck said with a clap of his hands. “I mean, just popped Mohamed [Ibrahim]. And Mohamed went off the ground.
“You can tell, he’s really excited to be back on the football field.”
Winfield, who had surgery on his foot last season, and the Gophers wrapped up their first week of spring ball at the Athletes Village indoor football facility with what Fleck called their best session yet.
Fleck also said Winfield has done a good job transitioning from the controlled environment in winter workouts to reacting to live situations in practice.
But the medical staff is still being cautious with his reps.
Redshirt senior running back Rodney Smith participated a little bit, which Fleck said made his play hard to evaluate. But he’s satisfied so far with Smith’s recovery from a knee injury. Fellow injured running back Shannon Brooks did not take part.
New coaches, new energy
Fleck isn’t typically out-energized in, like, anything. But one of the new members of his staff, defensive line coach Jim Panagos, might force the head coach to a new high.
Senior defensive end Carter Coughlin said he loves being around Panagos because the coach is “fired up all the time.” And it doesn’t bother him that he’s endured a coaching carousel his entire career.
“I could be sitting here and say, ‘Oh, I’ve had a different position coach every single year I’ve been here. That really [stinks] for me,” Coughlin said. “The way I look at it is that I’ve got four completely different perspectives from coaches. … So especially when it comes to the pass rushing, I mean, there’s not just one way to pass rush, otherwise everybody would do it the same way.”
Fleck had a few takeaways from the other two additions after seeing them in action with players this week. He called defensive backs/safeties coach Joe Harasymiak a “wonderful teacher” and said cornerbacks coach Rod Chance is already proving Fleck made the right choice to break up the secondary.
“Our corners can get way more specific, and I think that’s an area where we have to improve as a secondary,” Fleck said. “We’re way ahead of where we were from practice one.”
QBs help each other
Fleck said it was “too early to tell” which of his quarterbacks is the frontrunner for the starting job come fall. But he could tell how the game experience from last season benefited sophomores Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan, especially since they’re the only ones in their position with it.
The coach said he saw their growth not only in measurable things like accuracy and completion percentage but also their general command.
“Zack and Tanner have done a great job of competing with each other. They really help each other on the field. They’re not against each other,” Fleck said.
• After the session wrapped, the Gophers solidified a commitment from Ky Thomas, a three-star running back from Topeka, Kan. Thomas, 5-11 and 185 pounds, is the fourth member of the 2020 class.