Gophers continue to get reps, learn from mistakes at spring practice

The University of Minnesota football team has spent the majority of its spring season inside, practicing at its indoor facility at Athletes Village.

With Minnesota seeing 80 degrees for the first time since last October, a span of about six months, Gophers football coach PJ Fleck was more than happy to take his team outside this week. Only problem? The snow piles at the outdoor practice field were too high on the sideline. So Fleck and the Gophers held a scrimmage at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday, and returned to their gameday home on Tuesday. 

"The weather, that’s what I like about it. We don’t have any over here, so we made this our new practice field. That’s what I like about it, we get to move outside and practice on our field," Fleck said after Tuesday’s practice. "It gives us a chance to get the young guys, get an inexperienced team in here as much as we can so when we’re playing in the fall, they’re not goo-goo eyed watching the lights."

The Gophers are 10 practices into a spring season that features 14 workouts, and ends with the April 22 Spring Game. They ran 80-100 plays at Saturday’s scrimmage, and Tuesday’s workout was about learning from some of their mistakes. There was plenty of failure and learning Tuesday night.

Fleck flagged his offense for a delay of game during a team session, as they couldn’t get lined up properly, and screamed at least one obscenity into his microphone.

"Delay of game, offense, 5-yard penalty because we don’t know what the (expletive) we’re doing," Fleck yelled.

The defense got at least one tongue-lashing too. Defensive back Victor Pless came up with an interception during a red zone drill, and rather than take a knee for a touchback, he ran up the sideline celebrating.

"What the (expletive) are you doing?" Fleck said multiple times before moving on.

"Everybody talks about reps, and they’re earning reps. Reps are always earned, they’re never given. Every day you go out there, I was a guy that got one rep in the NFL, they couldn’t wait for me not to do well so they could cut me," Fleck said. "Then if I did well, I got another rep maybe a week later. When you have accountability to your teammates, you’ve got to perform. This is 10 practices in. It’s part of life, part of growing up."

"Practice is tough, but it should be fun growing. It should be fun failing, because that’s the only way you grow. Our job is to get you to fail, and then find a way to grow through that," Fleck added.

Athan Kaliakmanis is continuing to grow as the Gophers’ new starting quarterback, and he’s gelling with Daniel Jackson. He hit the receiver on multiple big plays in team sessions on Tuesday. 

Other notes from Tuesday’s practice:

  • Fleck confirmed quarterback Jacob Knuth is no longer with the team. Knuth is the 13th player to leave since a 9-4 season in 2022.
  • Defensive lineman Deven Eastern, who is getting several first-team reps in spring workouts, left Tuesday’s practice late with what appeared to be a head injury.
  • Texas A&M basketball coach Buzz Williams was at Tuesday’s practice. He and Fleck are good friends.

Tuesday’s session was open to the media, but closed to fans. The spring season concludes with the April 22 Spring Game at Huntington Bank Stadium. Fleck said due to a lack of depth at certain positions, the annual scrimmage will likely look a little different this year.

"There will be some form of a Spring Game on April 22. There will be some version of the game, will it be like it was in the past when people picked Maroon or Gold, there was completely separate teams? No, but there will be a game and it will be done a little bit different," Fleck said. "We’re still plenty of days away, but there will be some form of a game and entertainment for our fans for sure."