MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Gophers football team opens the regular season against South Dakota State in a little more than two weeks, but coach PJ Fleck is treating Tuesday’s practice as an audition for opening night.
Fleck holds one big scrimmage during every fall Training Camp, and this year, it’s on Tuesday. The projected starters will start, everyone will play and get live reps. It will be treated as a game, as much as Fleck can make it seem like one.
Tuesday is the audition, but Aug. 29 against the Jackrabbits is the opening act.
“We’ve had a lot of live periods throughout camp, but I want them to really kind of zone in. This is treated like a game,” Fleck said after Monday’s practice. “We need to find out what a lot of our young guys can do. Everybody will have game activity, and that’s what we need to be able to have. It’s going to be treated just like a game.”
Fleck knows what he has on offense. He’s got Tanner Morgan, who will be the opening night starter after Zack Annexstad went down in fall camp with a foot injury that required surgery. He’s got running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, who have combined to run for more than 4,800 career yards and 39 touchdowns.
He’s got all kinds of weapons in the pass game, mainly last year’s top-two receivers in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman.
On defense, seven of last year’s 11 starters are back. One new face has plenty of experience in graduate transfer Micah-Dew Treadway. He came to the Gophers from Notre Dame and has two years of eligibility left.
He made two tackles over 21 games with the Irish, but Fleck has much higher expectations for the veteran.
“This wasn’t about him coming in to fit in, I made it very clear when we recruited him and brought him here, was ‘You are going to help lead the defensive line,’” Fleck said. I said ‘You’re coming here to set the tone for the whole thing.’ Micah Dew-Treadway has made our entire defensive line level rise, in everything. He is 100 percent real, and that’s what I love about him.”
Dew-Treadway said Monday that the upcoming scrimmage is exciting as it signals the season is almost here. It’s also a chance for younger players to get more plays in.
“When I was younger, reps was the one thing that I needed more. For Coach Fleck to be able to do camp how he’s being doing it, it’s perfect for the younger guys. It’s also perfect for us because situationally, that’s what football is. A game of situations,” Dew-Treadway said.
Kicking competition continues
With Morgan now solidified as the No. 1 quarterback, one of the other intriguing battles at fall camp is at kicker. Emmit Carpenter is gone, so Fleck will need a new man for kickoffs, field goals and extra points.
“It’s going to be a little bit by committee and by job,” Fleck said.
It remains a competition, and Fleck has not named a starter. The two primary contenders are redshirt freshman Brock Walker, and freshman Michael Lantz.
Fleck put the offense through a two-minute drill at practice on Sunday. Lantz ended it with a 54-yard, game-winning kick. Walker ended Monday’s practice making a field goal from more than 40 yards.
“Michael Lantz has come in and hit some real big time kicks. Brock ends practice today with a big kick, 40-some plus yard field goal. They’re pushing each other,” Fleck said.