Saturday’s morning thunderstorm prompted the Gophers football coaching staff to relocate their open-to-the-public training camp practice from Huntington Bank Stadium to the indoor facility at Athletes Village, but even the weather couldn’t dampen the fact that the return of football was a step closer.
As a roller-coaster of musical styles set the beat to the usual frenetic tone for PJ Fleck’s high-octane practices, the coach used his wireless microphone throughout to encourage, correct and cajole his players, who were wrapping up the first week of camp. The “pig pen” and “axe tough” intense sessions were back, complete with the sounds of hogs squealing and chain saws running, lest the Gophers forget the identity of their most bitter rivals, Iowa and Wisconsin.
And when Fleck silenced the cacophony to emphasize a point, such as when are the only times to stretch out a ball for extra yardage, his players had the answer. “You only reach the ball on fourth-and-1, fourth-and-goal and a two-point conversion,” wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell said.
Saturday’s session was the first time media members could see the Gophers in training camp ahead of their Sept. 1 opener vs. New Mexico State, and a handful of items stood out.
Ibrahim and Potts look sharp: Running backs Mohamed Ibrahim (Achilles’ tendon) missed all but one game last season, while his versatile backup, Trey Potts (undisclosed injury), missed the final eight. Both were impressive Saturday, running hard and taking contact during the first day of full pads in training camp. Both also wore padded helmet caps for extra protection.
“They’re just happy to be on the field and they never take a day for granted,” Fleck said. “… To see what they’ve been through and then see it on the field and see the smile on their faces, that’s refreshing.”
Wright impresses again: Autman-Bell has been the Gophers top receiver over the past two seasons, and through the small sample size of spring practice and training camp, sophomore Dylan Wright could develop into a second go-to wideout. At a lean and explosive 6-3 and 210 pounds, Wright certainly looks the part, and Saturday the Texas A&M transfer made a spectacular sideline grab on an out pattern.
“There’s going to be plays that you’re gonna miss out on, but he’s there, he’s not beating himself up,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “He’s responding. He’s going to work. And it’s been awesome to see his growth.”
It was T-Time’s time: Fifth-year senior defensive back Terell Smith was a highlight machine Saturday, breaking up at least four passes during team drills. On one long sideline route, Smith knocked the ball away from Autman-Bell just before the receiver could catch the pass. “T-Time, shout out to him,” Autman-Bell said with a laugh.
Battle is on at RT: Four-fifths of the Gophers offensive line appears to be penciled in with Aireontae Ersery at left tackle, Axel Ruschmeyer at left guard, John Michael Schmitz at center and Michigan transfer Chuck Filiaga at right guard.
Right tackle is up for grabs, with Martes Lewis, JJ Gudet and Notre Dame transfer Quinn Carroll vying for the job. “It’s competitive,” Fleck said, “really competitive.”
Overall, Fleck likes the work he’s seen so far.
“When you’ve got a really committed team, you can raise the bar and they come up to it every time,” he said. “And that’s what they’ve done for six straight days.”
or six straight days.”