Dienhart: Five observations from Minnesota spring game
The day began with rain and bit of a chill. But by the time the ball was kicked off for P.J. Fleck’s first spring game at Minnesota, it was a sunny. And Fleck brought his A game—when doesn’t he?—sprinting on the field and barking commands before a nice gathering at TCF Bank Stadium. He even had some students try to field some punts (watch above).
There is talent in place in Dinkytown for this to be a bowl team for a sixth season in a row. But there is work to be done.
Here are areas that caught my eye on during the spring game.
1. The offensive line needs to get healthy. It will happen, but the team had just five healthy linemen today. Three key guys are out with injury in Vincent Calhoun, Garrison Wright and Jared Wayler. Exasperating problems is the fact Connor Mayes and Tyler Moore transferred. The unit has struggled for consistency for a number of years. New line coach Ed Warinner is one of the best in business and should be able to whip this group into shape after a good run at Ohio State.
2. The quarterbacks have potential. Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft both had their moments on this day. Croft throws a nice ball, showing touch and accuracy on a deep pass to Rashad Still on the day’s first play. Don’t expect a decision to be made on a starter until training camp, as Minnesota has turned the page on the Mitch Leidner era. Without a doubt, the Golden Gophers need more playmaking ability from the signal-caller position.
3. The secondary needs to come together. With guys like Jalen Myrick and Damarius Travis gone, among others, there are stars to replace. Keep an eye on the cornerbacks. Kiondre Thomas and Antonio Shenault look good. Coney Durr is out, but has potential, too. I like safeties Duke McGhee and Antoine Winfield Jr., who could be a special player. McGhee is a big hitter. The suspension of KiAnte Hardin hurts. This has been one of the Big Ten’s most underrated sets of defensive backs in recent years, but it has a lot to prove.
4. More difference-makers are needed at wideout. Rashad Still is a rangy target who made some plays today. And Tyler Johnson is another long wideout who had his moments, as well. But who else will emerge? It didn’t help that emerging tight end Brandon Lingen was out with injury.
5. The linebackers are the strength of the defense. Keep an eye on Carter Coughlin, who is playing a hybrid end/linebacker spot called “R.” Jonathan Celestin is a savvy vet and leader, while Thomas Barber is tenacious and smart for a defense that has some questions up front and in the back end.