Three weeks ahead of their season opener against New Mexico State on Sept. 1, the Gophers practiced at Huntington Bank Stadium on Thursday night, a 90-minute session that enabled coach P.J. Fleck to gauge the progress of his team.
"There was a lot of energy tonight, and it's good to be back at Huntington Bank Stadium,'' said Fleck, who moved the spring game and the first training camp practice slated for The Bank to the team's indoor facility because of inclement weather. "This is one of our night practices to kind of simulate when we kick off, so a lot of energy out there with guys making plays. I thought today, our best players were making tons of plays on both sides of the ball.''
While the Gophers didn't practice in full pads Thursday, the energy was especially evident during seven-on-seven red zone drills and the 11-on-11 periods in which the offense was operating inside the opponent's 40-yard line.
"Put some pressure on them, put them under the lights and see what they do and where we're at,'' Fleck said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we took the next right step.''
Here are some highlights of Thursday practice:
* Running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts continued to look sharp in their return from season-ending injuries. They ran hard and got the tough yards inside while taking the bulk of the carries with the first team.
* Notre Dame transfer Quinn Carroll got a longer look at right tackle, but Fleck indicated that position might be a job share among Carroll, Martes Lewis and JJ Guedet during the season.
* There's an intriguing competition at quarterback behind starter Tanner Morgan. Redshirt junior Cole Kramer is showing he's more than just a Wildcat formation QB, while redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis is progressing well.
"Cole Kramer is getting a lot better. He looks so much more natural, so much more fluid,'' Fleck said. "… Athan's taking huge strides, and everybody has seen that. He's got incredible intangibles, but it's the small things — the snap count, the volume, the leadership, the attention to detail, the play clock — other than arm talent that go into winning football games.''
* Defensive back Terell Smith continued his productive training camp with a handful of pass breakups. "He has poured it on in training camp, and he's been so impressive,'' Fleck said. "His confidence is through the roof. And he's making huge plays.''
* Michael Dixon's size and versatility has stood out. "He is a good-looking football player,'' Fleck said of the 6-2, 210-pound junior. "Every time I look at him, I think he'd be a great 'Will' linebacker, but he plays safety, and he moves like a safety. He's a guy that has impressed us so much that we're gonna think about him at nickel.''
* The Gophers will scrimmage on Saturday, and Fleck expects to get a lot of work done.
"We're gonna hit every situation,'' he said. "It's going to be very different than the other times we've been in scrimmage. You can do a lot with this team, you can push this team differently, push a lot of different buttons.''