Daniel Jackson sped down the field, timed his jump and hauled in a long pass from Athan Kaliakmanis. Just after the ball found Jackson's hands, Tyler Nubin swooped in and laid a big hit on the wide receiver, who hung onto the ball.
The hit would have been legal in, say, 1993, but since it's 2023 — and terms such as "defenseless receiver" and "targeting" have become commonplace — Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck stopped Tuesday's spring practice at the team's indoor facility for a teachable moment.
"I want them to understand how that affects the game," Fleck said. "… I want them to always see that there's something that's close, penalty-wise, I want to make sure that doesn't get overlooked."
Spring football is all about teaching, and especially this year for Fleck, who must replace mainstays such as running back Mohamed Ibrahim, center John Michael Schmitz, linebacker Mariano Sori Marin and defensive backs Jordan Howden and Terell Smith. The Gophers will be young in a lot of places, but Fleck likes what he's seen so far in four spring practices and the team's offseason conditioning program this winter.
"I tell you, this football team really works hard," Fleck said. "I'm really proud of how hard they're actually working. We talked about our voice getting louder and that we need more voices, but whatever you put in front of this team, they knock it down."
With the graduation losses and players such as wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell (knee surgery) and Brevyn Spann-Ford (shoulder) sidelined for spring practice, Fleck has stressed the chance to develop depth. It's a step-by-step process that's not nearly complete.
"We got a long way to go and trust me: By no means are we ready to play football. And I'm glad we don't play football right now. But we've got a lot of guys that are getting a lot of reps."
Nubin, an All-Big Ten safety in 2022 who chose to return to the Gophers for one more season instead of turning pro, understood the lesson of not putting himself in a position to get a targeting call.
"Being smarter in practice," Nubin said of the message. "I was trying to dislodge the receiver from the ball. And, obviously, that's one of our better players. That's my teammate, so I've got to take care of him in practice."
Tyler and Taylor
With Ibrahim off to the pro ranks, the Gophers have big shoes to fill at running back. During Tuesday's practice, Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler and true freshman Darius Taylor of Walled Lake, Mich., were running with the first-team offense. Taylor was slowed late in practice, and Fleck said he was banged up but should be fine.
"Darius has been able to get in there and do some good things," Fleck said. "It's just that he's got to learn. There's so much to learn so quickly. … But boy, he really is athletic."
- Fleck said defensive back Ryan Stapp is no longer with the team. Stapp, a transfer from Abilene Christian, played in 11 games in 2022, collecting 13 tackles, one sack and one interception.
- The Gophers will have an open practice at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, with the site to be determined. Their spring game is 11 a.m. April 22 at Huntington Bank Stadium.