Gophers football: Coaches share freshmen standouts in scrimmages

The Gophers football team is currently trying to maximize every ounce of talent on its roster, entering November in the middle of the Big Ten West division title race.

They list 14 players in their final year of eligibility — from star safety Tyler Nubin to starters such as defensive tackle Kyler Baugh, center Nathan Boe, slot receiver Corey Crooms, cornerback Tre’Von Jones and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford.

Minnesota has a handful of senior contributors and a blend of others from younger classes chipping in. The freshman class has been headlined by tailback Darius Taylor, who has won three Big Ten freshman of the week honors but also has battled injuries this season, and guard Greg Johnson, who has played regularly this season and received his first start in the 27-12 win over Michigan State on Saturday.

“It’s interesting because we have some guys who have played a lot of football and then we have guys that are all just young,” Fleck said. “It’s amazing. There is not a lot of that middle ground right now on this football team. It seems like everybody you see is just young and going to be around a long time. We don’t lose a lot of players after this year.”

While the focus is on the here and now, behind closed doors at the end of every weekend, the U plays its version Sunday night football for freshmen and other young players.

Fleck, co-offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi were asked over the previous week which young players have stood out during those scrimmage.

Note: Two of the young players mentioned below are cornerback ZaQuan Bryan and walk-on linebacker Zander Rockow, who were recently moved to running back given the Gophers’ rash of injuries at that position this season. For Bryan, at least, the move is not considered permanent.

Here were the coaches’ off-the-cuff answers on Sunday night football standouts:


“A lot of guys. I think (receiver) Kenric Lanier had a really good night (Sunday) night. Zander Rockow. …

Kerry Brown, one of our safeties, had a pick (Sunday) and a great return on it. Those are some guys that have really stood out. T.J. (McWilliams) one of our wideouts. (Donielle “Nuke” Hayes) one of our wideouts.

You look at a guy like (defensive lineman) Martin Owusu. … On the defensive side, I could go down a lot of our freshmen because I like our young class.”


“T.J. has done a great job. Nuke, a young wideout, as well. They both have really shown that they can help us in the future. Phillip Daniels at tackle, he has really shined. I’m excited about our young guys. Even some of the younger guys that are just in the two-deep in the O-line. …

Kenric is another guy, too, but he is up with us (and not on scout team during the week of practice). He’s really shown as a true freshman that he’s continued to grow every day. I’m excited about our youth and excited about our young O-linemen. (Tight end) Pierce Walsh is another one.

I could say a number of guys, but those guys are continuing to work. Coach Rossi has awesome things to say about them on the scout team. They give everything they have. They make our defense better.”


“Matt Kingsbury at linebacker is going to be a really, really good player. He’s got size. He’s got length. He’s got intelligence. And he works really hard. I think he’s been really impressive.

ZaQuan (Bryan) has everything to be a really good player for us. He’s got great COD (change of direction). He’s tough. He’s got a little bit of stoutness to him in his lower body, which I always like in DBs, because it allows them to be physical. He’s done a really good job.

Theo Randle, in Sunday night football, with our young D-tackles, Martin (Owusu) and Theo, we don’t have much behind them, so they play a lot of the reps. And so they are gassed a lot of the time, but I think both of those guys are going to be really good. Kerry (Brown).

I’ll say this: I like our young defensive players. As I rattle off six guys already. … I think they are going to be really good. Does that mean next week? No. Does that mean next year? When you write your preseason article next year, are they going to be dominate players? Probably not. Because there is this process of growth that people go though and development path people go through, but every one of the defensive guys that we brought in, I’ve been impressed with and think they are going to be a really good player for us. So, it’s been fun.”

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