After the longest offseason ever, the Gophers resume play at last! But with player turnover and a new offensive coordinator, what will the team look like in 2020?
What to Expect When the Gophers Resume Play
Obviously, Tanner Morgan will be the starter. Cole Kramer, Jacob Clark, and Zach Annexstad are all on the roster as well. Without a normal training camp, it’s hard to know who would be next in line. Kramer would be the best guess, based simply on the fact that he got into a game or two in garbage time last year.
This group should be in good shape, as all of the starters are back from what was a solid unit a year ago.
Rodney Smith is gone, but Mohamed Ibrahim isn’t. As a freshman in 2018, Ibrahim was thrust into a major role after Smith was injured, and he responded with a 1,160-yard season. Last year, with Smith healthy, Ibrahim rushed for 604 yards in nine games after missing most of September with an injury. Expect another big year for him in 2020.
Tyler Johnson may be catching touchdown passes from Tom Brady, but there are plenty of guys still around to catch passes from Morgan. Rashod Bateman opted out, then opted back in (to the joy of Minnesota fans everywhere) as the Big Ten decided to play. The Georgia native followed up a solid freshman season with a 1,219-yard, 11 touchdown effort last year.
Chris Autman-Bell is the next-most experienced receiver on the roster. He emerged as a scoring threat last season, with five touchdowns. Senior Seth Green, the former quarterback, is also listed as a receiver. Last year, Green’s role was primarily that of Wildcat quarterback.
As the Gophers resume play, this is one position where we are eager to see if new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford makes changes. Last year, tight ends Jake Paulson and Brevyn Spann-Ford combined for eight catches, 76 yards, and one touchdown. Will they be more involved in the passing game this year? Spann-Ford, at six-foot-seven-inches and 270 pounds, would certainly be a matchup problem for defenses.
The graduations of Carter Coughlin, Winston DeLattiboudere, and Sam Renner leave some big holes upfront. Fortunately, Micah Dew-Treadway is back. Boye Mafe is a guy to keep an eye on; the junior DE played well a year ago and is poised for a breakout season. Keonte Schad and Esezi Otomewo also played well in limited action and will likely have bigger roles this season.
This is another unit hit hard by graduations, as Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin are both gone. The fact that Martin missed multiple games last year may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Braelen Oliver to get some valuable experience. The freshman played well when thrust into action. He finished the season with 22 total tackles and three sacks. Mariano Sori-Marin is another linebacker who’s likely to have a bigger role this season.
You don’t just replace a player like Antoine Winfield, Jr. Offensive coordinators around the Big Ten were likely thrilled to see the last of him. Seniors Coney Durr, Benjamin St-Juste, and Phillip Howard will be attempting to fill his shoes this season. Juniors Terell Smith and Jordan Howden will likely see time in the backfield as well.
Players like Peter Mortell, Ryan Santoso, and Emmit Carpenter had Gopher fans spoiled for several years. Honestly, special teams may be the unit that is the most concerning in 2020. Reliable punter Jacob Herbers has graduated, and last year’s kicking game was inconsistent, to put it mildly. As if that weren’t enough, the Gophers will be looking to replace kick returner Demetrius Douglas, who has left the team.
One of the downsides to being a top-tier program is that you’re frequently trying to replace top-tier players. At the same time, it also enables you to bring in better players- guys who are prepared to contribute more and sooner. As the Gophers resume play this weekend, we’ll see if they have what it takes to pick up where they left off in 2019, minus some truly exceptional players.