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Fleck won't put a win number on Gophers' progress this season

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck addresses the media during the Big Ten football media day at Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile July 23. Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—P.J. Fleck won't measure his football team's 2018 season by how many games the Gophers win.

"Numbers will always get stale," Fleck said. "If we win so many games some day, that will be the expectation."

Speaking at the Gophers' local media day Tuesday, July 31, Fleck used the last of his four seasons at Western Michigan to explain his thinking. After going 1-11 in Fleck's first season in 2013, the Broncos won 13 games and earned a berth in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin.

"Here we are go from being 1-11 to 11-0 and people are saying, 'If we lose this game, it's all for naught,' " Fleck said. "I'm looking at them like, 'You know we won 11 games so far' We remember three years ago and where we were at?'

"I understand the expectation, but holy cow that changed quickly, didn't it?"

Regarding his second Gophers team, which starts its season Aug. 30 with a 6 p.m. kickoff against New Mexico State, Fleck said, "The number (of wins) doesn't necessarily mean that much to me. ... Somebody else can judge the number. That is never going to be something that I look at to whether that was a success or not."

Senior offensive lineman Jared Weyler wouldn't bite either. He said he wants to lead the team "into the postseason." But when asked for specific expectations, he lightly laughed and said the team just has to keep getting better.

Defensive end Carter Coughlin was more bold.

"I think we are going to shock some people, wake some people up," the junior defensive end from Eden Prairie said.

Coughlin said his confidence was born during players-only drills this summer. A year ago, the Gophers were still trying to get acclimated to the "controlled chaos" of Fleck's high-tempo practices, but after a full season and two sets of spring practices, Coughlin said the team is catching on.

"The captains' practice as a whole moved a lot faster than it had in the past," Coughlin said. "When you look at how we ran practice last year, that is what we tried to mimic in captains' practice. Obviously, we don't do it as well as having coach Fleck leading us, but we got as close to it as we could."

Coughlin said upperclassmen better understand the schemes and can pass them onto freshmen, many of whom are expected to play for one of the youngest teams in college football this fall. Sixty-five percent of the roster has been in the program for two years or less.

The brief experience, Coughlin said, allowed them to break off into position groups during summer workouts.

"When we came together, we already knew what we were doing," Coughlin said. "We will run through different calls and run through different checks as a defense. .... We are all communicating, so all that stuff just helps build cohesion, and last year we weren't able to do that."

A year ago, captains' practices included "flipping through (call sheets) and showing guys what they had to do," he added. "But now the older guys — we are able to tell the young guys what they were supposed to do. We already knew our assignments."

On offense, running back Rodney Smith said, older players ran off-the-field prep and activities for the freshmen.

"We laid the foundation out for them of how things operate within our system off of the field," Smith said. "We met with them in the film room to make sure that they master the basic concepts of the offense. We spent time with them to get them on board to build their trust up. And they trust us because coming in as a new guy, you don't know anything about college football."