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P.J. Fleck has pored over Gophers’ 2021 game film in quest to improve offense

The Gophers must replace four of five starting offensive linemen and six of the top eight defensive linemen from the 2021 team

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J Fleck leads his team onto the field prior to the game against the Bowling Green Falcons on Sept. 25, 2021, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Golden Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck will, on average, go back and watch a season’s worth of games two or three times before spring practices start. This year, Fleck hit rewind on the 2021 season four or five times, and he just finished reviewing the regular-season finale against Wisconsin before his spring kickoff news conference Tuesday.

Fleck will sit down over multiple days and watch complete games, letting it flow from start to finish. He shared his recent doubled-down effort when asked what must improve with the Gophers’ offense — which was 118th in nation at 162 yards per game — going into next season.

“We were too inconsistent,” Fleck said “We had way too many three-and-outs. It just didn’t flow together. That starts with me.” Next in line, making sure the adjustments will fall to offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, which is a move the past and future.

Fleck cited the systematic approach Ciarrocca will return to from his first stint at OC in 2017-19, but also “hopefully be on the cutting edge of some of the newer things” Ciarrocca learned while he was away at Penn State and West Virginia the past two seasons.

Fleck wants more players involved in the pass game and to take bigger advantage of easy throws and converting shots down field into explosive gains. Combined and clicking, he wants it to be close to a 70-percent completion percentage.

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One of the players who stood out more and more during Fleck’s reviews was Dylan Wright. The Texas A&M transfer had 18 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdown in nine games despite missing time because of a death in his family.

Worried? Not so much

The Gophers must replace four of five starting offensive linemen and six of the top eight defensive linemen from the 2021 team. But what Fleck has seen in winter workouts has given him more confidence than he thinks fans have.

“I know everybody is worried about the O-line, D-line, but if you saw what I saw since January, you wouldn’t be as worried about it,” Fleck said. … “These guys have attacked it. We have more depth probably at those two position (groups) than we did last year. Now, again, we might not have as many starts, and (last year’s group) showed what they could do and they proved it. Well, these guys have to do that too now. So we’ve had time, we’ve had the consistency, now here comes the proof (to earn) the trust. And these next 15 practices will show that.”

The full complement of linemen has yet to arrive at the U. Harvard transfer defensive tackle Chris Smith and Notre Dame guard Quinn Carroll will join Minnesota this summer.

Fleck spoke higher of third-year offensive lineman Aireontae Ersery than any other player Tuesday. “He’s got incredible skill,” Fleck said of the 6-foot-6, 325-pound tackle. “I mean, his ceiling is probably higher than any lineman we’ve had here. He’s got draft-ability written all over him. He’s got to be developed, which we will.”

Clemson defensive tackle Darnell Jefferies and Vanderbilt defensive end Lorenza Surgers are expected to be plugged into the revamped D-line.

“Lorenza provides that (Esezi Otomewo)-type five-technique, that defensive end,” Fleck said. “Lorenza is about 270, 275 pounds. So mature, incredibly intelligent, plugs right in, unbelievable work ethic. And (he) doesn’t say a lot, but just works. And he’s been a joy to be around.”

Tailbacks limited

After suffering an Achilles tendon injury during the season-opening loss to Ohio State on Sept. 2, tailback Mohamed Ibrahim was scheduled to take part in non-padded practices Tuesday and Thursday. He will work out pre-dawn separate from the team as he observes Ramadan though the spring game on April 30. He won’t have full contact drills until fall camp in August.

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Tailback Trey Potts, who suffered an undisclosed ailment and a weeklong hospitalization after the Purdue win on Oct. 2, will have a “modified” spring practice plan. He has been working out (weight lifting, conditioning and other drills) with the team over the past few months.

“He will be involved in a lot of group (drills) and a lot of (individual drills) and then it’s up to the medical team if we progress from there,” Fleck said.

Briefly

Gophers added former linebacker Thomas Barber as a defensive graduate assistant on Tuesday. He was an assistant at Division III Augsburg last season and headlined a group of new additions to the staff: graduate assistants Christian Pawola, Angel Matute and Nick Faus, and quality control assistants Ferras Isa (special teams), Andrew Bindelglass (defense) and Brian Sheehan (offense). Kramer Cook was promoted to director of recruiting operations, with assistants Drew Smith and Chandler Buning.

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