Jesse Johnson - USA Today Images

Minnesota Fall Camp: Gophers offensive excitements and concerns heading into 2016

Taking a look at what excites us and what concerns us about Minnesota's offense headed into fall camp.

What excites us

1) Young Running Back Talent

Minnesota returns nearly 1400 yards and nine rushing touchdowns between sophomores Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, that should have many Gopher fans excited. Brooks was Minnesota's biggest home run threat each time he touched the ball last season and the staff is very excited about his potential in 2016 and beyond. Smith also proved to be a very solid Big Ten back and one that also can carry the load if Brooks goes down. Behind the two sophomores is Spring Game MVP James Johannesson, who took one of the biggest, if not the biggest step forward of the players on offense in the spring. Canadian running back Jonathan Femi-Cole has the athletic talents as well. Running back looks to be a position that Minnesota is set at for years to come. 

2) A fourth-year, senior starting at quarterback

This is the year that Gopher fans have been waiting in terms of Minnesota won't be starting a new quarterback and they have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten with Mitch Leidner. The in-state senior quarterback will likely finish in the top three in passing yards, attempts, completion percentage and passing touchdowns for a Minnesota quarterback, in what hopefully will be his best season to date. If the offensive line can improve from last season and be able to protect Leidner and keep him healthy for a majority of the season, GI is excited to see what this Gopher offense will look like in 2016.

3) The next great Minnesota tight end?

The sky looks to be the limit for what could be the next Gopher tight end headed to the NFL in junior Brandon Lingen. Brandon looks to be in line for a bigger season than last year where he caught 33 passes for over 13 yards a catch and three touchdowns, and for that performance last season, Lingen was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten, and an Academic All-American. Lingen could catch over 50 balls this upcoming season if he can stay healthy, and looks to be a favorite of Leidner in go-to situations. 

What concerns us

1) The offensive line

It's no secret that Minnesota's offensive line needed to shake things up after five years of under-performing, and that's exactly what Tracy Claeys did in firing Matt Limegrover at the end of 2015, and hiring the up and coming OL coach Bart Miller. What Miller has really been preaching to this current group of offensive linemen about physicality and mental toughness. He's really trying to turn this group into an offensive line comparable to what Wisconsin has done for so many years, and while I believe he'll eventually do that, I don't know that he can do it immediately in 2016. Minnesota has some depth now at the tackle spot, but their interior offensive line depth is very thin and a place where Minnesota could see problems this season. 

2) Who steps up at wide receiver?

Minnesota has a large hole to fill trying to replace 73 catches from KJ Maye last season, and while senior Drew Wolitarsky looks to be the first option to try and fill Maye's shoes, Minnesota needs to find someone behind Drew. Rashad Still showed some flashes as a true freshman last season, Eric Carter was a higher-rated recruit coming out and now that he's an upperclassman, he'll have more on his plate. Behind those three, there's a lot of uncertainty with Melvin Holland looking for a bigger role, Isaiah Gentry trying to stay healthy, Hunter Register working on his route tree and a host of true freshmen and walk-ons also trying to seize the opportunity. The Gophers need some help for Leidner in 2016.

3) Depth behind Leidner

There are some question marks behind Mitch on who the number two quarterback is going to be heading into 2016. Sophomore Demry Croft received every rep in the spring behind Mitch, but Claeys has said this summer that it's a wide open competition behind Mitch after Demry took a bit of step back in the spring. Demry has a lot of natural quarterback talent and athleticism, but struggled with his accuracy. Conor Rhoda could also be an option as he's consistent with his play, but doesn't quite have the upside of Demry if things were to click. True freshman Seth Green is expected to redshirt, as is Mark Williams, but it'll be an open competition behind Mitch this fall. 

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories