Gophers football holds second spring practice open to fans

The University of Minnesota football team is in the middle of its spring practice season, and the Gophers held their final workout open to the public on Tuesday at Athletes Village before the April 22 Spring Game at Huntington Bank Stadium.

PJ Fleck gave his first-team offensive and defensive units on both sides plenty of reps, and we got a glimpse of what it could look like come fall. It’s a new era for the Gophers, with Tanner Morgan gone and Athan Kaliakmanis taking over at quarterback.

He had an up-and-down practice, being pulled during a team series after struggling to get the offense aligned. Cole Kramer came in and led a touchdown drive. Kaliakmanis returned and led a touchdown drive of his own. Co-offensive coordinators Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh said after practice their job is to get the team’s playmakers the ball.

It appears those players, with Chris Autman-Bell out and Dylan Wright no longer on the team, are Daniel Jackson, and transfers Corey Crooms and Elijah Spencer. All three had touchdowns on Tuesday.

"We’ve got a wide receiver room now. Those guys can play. Spence can play, Kristen Hoskins stepped into a huge role. I can’t say enough about the whole receiver room, those are my guys," Kaliakmanis said. "I love those guys, I’m just really happy to play with all them."

Kaliakmanis played in all but two games last season, passing for 946 yards and three touchdowns while Morgan was out with two concussions. The torch has been passed in the offseason, and Kaliakmanis is learning how to be the leader Morgan was.

"When Tanner talked, everyone stopped to listen. That’s something that I’ve been wanting to take away and obviously comes with time," Kaliakmanis said. "It’s like LeBron James, when talks everyone listens in. That’s something I’m still building."

Kaliakmanis weighed 200 pounds at the Pinstripe Bowl, and said he wants his playing weight to be 220 pounds by the fall.

It was day largely won by the defensive line, with Kyler Baugh, Jalen Logan-Redding, Deven Eastern and Danny Striggow all making plays at times.

But the offense also had its moments, with Jackson being a popular target. Autman-Bell offered praise from the side as Jackson caught a touchdown in the corner from Kramer. It’s only April, but with a healthy Autman-Bell, Jackson, Crooms and Spencer could prove to make a dangerous receiving corps.

Jackson led the Gophers in receiving last year with 557 yards and five touchdowns, two in the Pinstripe Bowl. He’s picking up where he left off in December.

"We want to be the No. 1 group in the Big Ten. We want to be leaned on at any point in the game, no matter the weather, up, down. Come to us if you need it, that’s kind of our mindset," Jackson said.


One of the biggest question marks entering the fall might be the offensive line, which has three starters to replace. The two returning veterans are Aireontae Ersery, and Quinn Carroll, who experienced his first Big Ten season in 2022 after transferring from Notre Dame.

If spring practice is any indication, he might be moving to guard. Nathan Boe has been at center, with Karter Shaw, Tyler Cooper and Martes Lewis all getting starting time.

"Reps, man. I think you guys saw it today. Coach Fleck putting the 1s out there a good amount just so that we can get those reps and gel together, so we can work five as one," Carroll said.

Carroll was a high school standout at Edina, and started college at Notre Dame despite Fleck flying in on a helicopter to see him play for the Hornets. The two still joke about that night to this day. He’s now back home, and following his dad’s footsteps.

The Gophers will have a scrimmage this weekend that’s closed to the public. Our next look at Minnesota will be the April 22 Spring Game at Huntington Bank Stadium, which ends the spring season.