Yes, it’s only one of 27 practice sessions the Gophers will hold during preseason camp, but the players seem pumped up for Saturday’s scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.
The scrimmage, which starts at 4:40 p.m., will be the public’s last chance to see the Gophers before the Aug. 29 season opener against UNLV.
“Every time you’re in the stadium, you’ve always got high emotions because it’s TCF,” defensive end Michael Amaefula said. “In a couple weeks, we’re going to be back there [for UNLV], so it’s not just another day.”
Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman said tensions have been running high between the offensive and defensive lines, “so we’re ready to get after each other right now.”
Summer school ended Friday, so Saturday also will be the Gophers’ first chance to hold two practice sessions on the same day. They will have a special teams scrimmage at 9:10 a.m., before running the offense vs. the defense during the public session.
“We open it up to the fans because I think they deserve that, but for us it’s another opportunity, another practice,” coach Jerry Kill said. “If we wanted to make sure how good we looked for everybody, we wouldn’t [practice Friday night and Saturday morning ahead of the afternoon scrimmage].”
Cockran likes surroundings
Playing next to Hageman has its benefits. Defensive end Theiren Cockran said teams usually try to double-team Hageman, which leaves the end in a 1-on-1 battle.
D.L. Wilhite took advantage last year, racking up a team-high 8½ sacks before graduating. Now, Cockran moves into Wilhite’s spot.
“It’s not a lot of pressure,” Cockran said. “[Wilhite] worked with me a lot last year. He showed me a lot of things, sitting behind him, watching him on film. Going back, this year and watching more film, I feel like it’s prepared me more.”
Young Ekpe grows fast
Scott Ekpe surprised the Gophers coaches last year with how much improvement he made between spring practice and fall camp. The defensive tackle from Lewisville (Texas) High School wound up playing in all 13 games as a true freshman.
His younger brother, Hendric, followed him to the university this January, and it’s been like déjà vu for the Gophers coaching staff.
“Hank Ekpe’s probably our most improved player from the spring,” Kill said.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys added: “Hank Ekpe’s a completely different person than he was in the spring. It’s weird. It’s kind of like his brother.
“We thought we were going to redshirt Scott after his first spring. I don’t know what it is in the summer in the Twin Cities. All of a sudden, he’s getting off the ball raising hell and playing well. ”
• Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the team is still contemplating when to give one of two quarterbacks — Chris Streveler or Donovahn Jones – a chance at wide receiver. First, the team needs to pick a No. 3 quarterback behind Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner, Limegrover said, noting that this won’t happen right after the scrimmage.