FRESNO, CALIF. – The availability of Carter Coughlin for the Gophers’ game at Fresno State on Saturday night was a subject of much scrutiny this past week.
And warmups were a little heartening for the senior defensive end’s status.
Coughlin participated in all the warmups. But fellow senior Tai’yon Devers took the first rep at the rush end position with the first team before Coughlin cycled into the unit.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said earlier this week that Coughlin was dealing with a similar issue to the “tightness” he felt early in training camp that limited his participation. The injury similarly limited him toward the end of the season opener against South Dakota State on Aug. 29. But while Coughlin was “bothered,” as Fleck put it, the coach wasn’t too concerned about the player making a speedy recovery.
Senior linebacker Kamal Martin also participated in his first warmups of the season after sitting out the South Dakota State game in a continuation of a suspension last year for violating team rules.
Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and Fleck have hinted since spring about the personnel the team has on the defensive line allowing for creative packages.
That came to fruition in Week 1, with a new pass-rushing setup with four defensive ends. Twice in the first quarter, South Dakota State failed to convert a third-and-long when up against Devers, Coughlin, Esezi Otomewo and Boye Mafe.
Fleck said the package helps put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with just the defensive line.
“We feel like we are finally, for the first time, at a point where we have depth at a rush position, and we have four or five guys that we feel can rush the passer,” Fleck said. “They are all different skill sets and levels of being able to rush the passer.”
Rossi said the season-opening showing was “ground zero” for that unit.
“It was the first time it was kind of out there and revved up and going. I think you saw what it can be,” Rossi said. “… We can do a lot of things with it. We can put people in different spots. We can have tackles drop, we can have ends drop, we can run twists, and all that good stuff. So it just gives us a bunch of variety and a lot of different options, gets a lot of speed on the field.”
While it was a surprising and fun new look, Devers said its only just starting.
“We will be a pretty fearful team, pretty scary package, once we get everything down pat,” Devers said. “We still have got work to.”
Hot in here
Fleck said on his radio show Tuesday he was running practices in the indoor practice facility this week, bumping the heat into the 80s to simulate the California Central Valley climate.
“It’s been hot. It’s been real hot,” Gophers safety Antoine Winfield said. “… It’s just good to get it out right now so everybody’s hydrated, and they’re going to know the environment that we’re going to be in.”
The coach also decided to keep the team’s clock on Central time, wanting the players to prepare for a 9:30 p.m. kick. The team also flew out in the early afternoon Friday, intending to leave after the game back to the Twin Cities to spend as little time away from home as possible.