Five observations from Minnesota’s first spring game under P.J. Fleck

P.J. Fleck already has his fingerprints all over Minnesota.

That’s probably not a surprising observation from the spring game. From Day 1, Fleck incorporated his “Row the Boat,” slogan into the program, even going as far as having fans donate oars at Saturday’s scrimmage. Those paddles will eventually be turned into some sort of artwork.

But enough about that.

The big question was whether Fleck would turn Minnesota into a team capable of competing for the B1G West title. It’s early, but the offensive improvement could make this team a contender in 2017.

Here are a few other takeaways from the Gophers’ spring game:

The passing attack will have a more traditional feel

On the first play of the spring game, Demry Croft delivered a pass that Mitch Leidner struggled to master in four seasons. He threw a perfect strike downfield to Rashad Still for a 60-yard gain on the initial play from scrimmage:

How many Gopher fans were smiling after that play?

Whether it was Croft or Conor Rhoda under center, there wasn’t a lot of lateral movement and there weren’t many designed quarterback runs. Fleck’s offense was focused on throwing the ball downfield most of the day.

In its early stages, the passing attack looks like it could be a real weapon for the Gophers this fall.

Speaking of QBs, there’s a pretty good battle for the starting job

Considering Fleck talked Rhoda into staying at Minnesota rather than transferring to another program, it was kind of assumed that the senior gunslinger would inherit the starting job.

After the spring game, the No. 1 spot might be up for grabs.

Both quarterbacks demonstrated to make a lot of different throws and also showed off some mobility. Croft’s passes looked a little crisper in the spring game, but Rhoda wasn’t far behind.

Fleck has said he won’t name a starter until the fall. It should be a tight battle until the very end.

This might be the most well-rounded Minnesota’s offense has been in awhile

Not only is Minnesota’s quarterback situation in good shape, the ground game looks pretty good too.

Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks should be one of the best backfield duos in the B1G in 2017. That much we already knew. A strong showing from RB Jonathon Femi-Cole gives the Gophers even more depth at running back than was presumed.

Even more surprising was the play from the offensive line. Despite being extremely limited, the unit opened up running lanes for all the ball-carriers on Saturday afternoon.

Imagine what kind of damage that front will do when the unit gets healthy and more than five guys are battling in the trenches.

The defense didn’t quite look game-ready yet

Every spring game, the defense is always expected to out-perform the offense, especially when a new coach takes over.

That wasn’t the case in Minnesota’s spring game.

It was hard to tell whether the defense was really far behind or the offense was just ahead of schedule. The Gophers’ defensive line was able to get some pressure on the quarterback at times but it was mostly an inconsistent effort.

Minnesota will definitely need to improve on that side of the ball, particularly in the secondary, before the season starts.

With Fleck’s touch, Minnesota is instantly more watchable

The Gophers posted some pretty good seasons under Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, mostly because of a stout defensive and an effective ground game. But that vanilla-style of football wasn’t always the most entertaining.

Though there wasn’t a huge sampling, the Gophers called a few trick plays, deep passes and plenty of play actions. It was refreshing to see Minnesota take advantage of all of its offensive talent.

Fleck’s offensive mentality might instantly propel Minnesota into a competitor for that B1G West title.

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Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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