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Gophers star running back Shannon Brooks ruled out for 2018 season

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Shannon Brooks (23) celebrates after a 17-12 win over the Washington State Cougars at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks will miss the 2018 season because of a lower-leg injury suffered in one of the final winter workouts before the start of spring practices on Tuesday, coach P.J. Fleck announced.

Brooks, a true senior, will be redshirted in the fall and is expected back for the 2019 season, Fleck said.

“That’s unfortunate and obviously that is not the news that everyone wants to hear, not what I want to hear. But I’ll tell you what, he’s been incredibly positive about it,” Fleck said during a news conference to kick off spring practices. “He sees it as kind of a blessing in his own eyes in how he can continue to mature and how he can get better and obviously be back in 2019.”

Last year, Brooks played in just six games, missing six because of concussions and undisclosed lower-body injuries. He rushed 79 times for 369 yards, and ranks 27th on the program’s all-time rushing list with 1,728 career yards. Also in 2017, he rushed for five touchdowns, with five receptions for 59 yards and returned 18 kicks for 347 yards.

The Gophers will welcome back Rodney Smith as the starting running back for 2018; he had 229 carries for 977 yards and three touchdowns last year. Minnesota has benefited from a Smith/Brooks combo for most of the past three season, and will now have to have other players step up.

In his final season, senior Kobe McCrary was third running back for the Gophers in 2017, fitting Fleck’s desired backfield depth of having a “pair” or starting running backs and a “spare.”

Now without Brooks and McCrary, Jonathan Femi-Cole is the only other running back to carry the ball last season, with nine rushes for 42 yards. Fleck also mentioned redshirt freshmen Mohamed Ibrahim and Dominik London as well as incoming freshmen Bryce Williams and Nolan Edmonds as possible replacements. The latter two will join the program in June.

“Guys like (the incoming freshmen) are going to have to be in there to step up, which is perfect because we knew that one of the freshmen was going to have to contribute somehow some way,” Fleck said. “Now they have to contribute somehow some way, maybe even both of them, mixed with the ‘spare’ — the ‘pair and the spare’ are going to be by committee until we find out who those guys are.”