An initial look at Minnesota's true freshman and how they will impact Golden Gopher football.

Every year I look forward to heading down to Gopher practice with one thing in mind. To get my initial impression of all the true freshman on the practice field in order to get an idea of what to expect out of Golden Gopher football in years to come.

Defensive Line

http://www.scout.com/player/204140-taiyon-devers?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/193486-tamarion-johnson?s=176

Impressions:  The Gophers only brought in two true freshman defensive lineman as part of their 2016 recruiting class and both were projected to be projects from the moment they signed their National Letters of Intent.  That appears to be the case on the practice field as well.  Both Devers and Johnson have tremendous potential as they each have the frame needed to add the required weight to play defensive end in the Big Ten.  They are both lean, long and have long wing spans.  The best thing that can happen for both of them and the coaching staff would be for them to be able to take one or two years and develop proper technique on the practice field and add strength and bulk in the weight room.  If either Devers or Johnson play in 2016 it would be a major shock, but the potential is there and both could be boom or bust type players.  I will take a wait and see approach on both, but tend to believe both will end up as productive players at the U.

Linebackers

http://www.scout.com/player/184348-thomas-barber?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/188933-carter-coughlin?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/194942-kamal-martin?s=176

Impressions:  The Gophers looked to have hit a home run with their recruiting efforts at the linebacker position in 2016.  Many times in the past Minnesota has brought in linebacker prospects that clearly were in need of a developmental year in order to get physically prepared for life in the Big Ten.  The name Jack Lynn is a perfect example.  Lynn will end up being a big force for the Gopher defense but he was no where near being physically ready when he arrived on campus.  That is not the case for the trio of Barber, Coughlin and Martin.  While it still may be nice if one, two or all three could redshirt and use the year off to get bigger, stronger, faster and smarter it probably won't happen.  I fully expect Coughlin and Martin to play this year to add depth to the linebacker and special teams units before becoming three-year starters next fall.  They are both tall, yet strong and aren't afraid to fly around the practice field.  Barber, when compared to Coughlin and Martin, is short and stocky and built to play in the middle and stop the run.

Defensive Backs

http://www.scout.com/player/186926-coney-durr?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/197398-kiondre-thomas?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/194502-antoine-winfield?s=176

Impressions:  If the linebacker position is the most hyped among the true freshman, the defensive backs are a close second.  Minnesota did a great job adding talent to the secondary in 2016.  I was never bashful in admitting my recruiting crush for Coney Durr last winter and was somewhat disappointed that I didn't get a chance to see him on the practice field.  Durr was wearing orange but should be back later this week.  Winfield is exactly like his dad, a little bit on the short side but strong and not afraid to compete on the football field.  I see Winfield as a special teams contributor in 2016, as well as providing depth a safety, and and then a three-year starter for Minnesota beginning next year.  Kiondre Thomas is  the spitting image of the man he is replacing, new Kansas City Chief defensive back Eric Murray.  The fact that Thomas wears Murray's former No. 31 makes it even more difficult to tell the two apart.  Thomas' length will be a huge asset to his game when he is ready to see the field.  I could see Thomas burning his redshirt this year in a situational role on defense and in special teams, but I am hoping Minnesota is solid enough in the secondary to allow for a redshirt season.

Offensive Line

http://www.scout.com/player/198234-conner-olson?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/181226-sam-schlueter?s=176

Impressions:  The Gophers only added two true freshman offensive lineman to the mix in 2016, primarily due to the need to add junior college transfers to the depth chart on the line.  Both Olson and Schlueter have the talent to play in the Big Ten and the frame to add the required bulk and beef they will need before they see the field.  Both are currently tall and lean and would benefit from hours and hours spent in the weight room and at that training table.  In a perfect world Gopher fans would be able to forget about the names of Olson and Schlueter until the 2018 season, when they would both be ready to look to replace the junior college recruits that joined them in the recruiting class of 2016.

Quarterback

http://www.scout.com/player/181251-seth-green?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/199807-mark-williams?s=176

Impressions:  I have to admit that the first player I was hoping to check out today was Mark Williams.  I wanted to see right away if Williams was too small to play quarterback effectively in the Big Ten.  He is not.  Williams looks dangerous and a quarterback that could be a weapon for Minnesota.  Williams is smooth, athletic and explosive and I think will be a major competitor to replace Mitch Leidner as Minnesota's starting quarterback next year.  Green will have a lot to say about who replaced Leidner next fall.  When you look at Green in maroon and gold you see all the physical qualities you want in a quarterback.  Green is tall, big, strong and also brings athleticism to the table.  It appears to me that Minnesota did a great job bringing in two prep quarterbacks this year.  Hopefully both can redshirt and then it is game on this spring in the quest to become QB1.

Receiver / Tight End

http://www.scout.com/player/200630-drew-hmielewski?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/197542-phillip-howard?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/184347-tyler-johnson?s=176

http://www.scout.com/player/200884-ko-kieft?s=176

Impressions:  I really like Tyler Johnson.  He has a great look to him on the football field.  He is a smooth wide receiver and a long strider.  I was impressed with his ability to already use his hands to catch the ball and not allow the ball to get to his body or pads.  Howard is a small target but has thick, strong legs and is lightning quick.  I was disappointed to see Howard, on at least two occasions, catch the ball with his body, a habit I would like to see Howard eliminate immediately.  However, due to his quickness and speed, I fully expect the Cooper product to be a major weapon in Minnesota's offense.  In case you missed it Hmielewski is not practicing with the team as he just had shoulder surgery.  The Marshall recruit will be granted a medical redshirt and hopefully will be ready to go during the spring.  Kieft really didn't do much on the practice field today and I was only able to get a look at him blocking during special teams.  Kieft does appear to be the prototype of what Minnesota has produced at the tight end position over the past several years.


Gopher Illustrated Top Stories