Five days into training camp, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck and his staff gave the players their stiffest test yet. Saturday was the day to install the all-important third-down packages.
In front of a crowd of about 1,000 for an open practice at the Gibson-Nagurski outdoor field, the Gophers’ first and second teams on offense and defense took turns gaining an upper hand.
“It was a tough day for the quarterbacks, a real tough challenge for them,” offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said. “I was looking forward to seeing how they would do because there’s a lot more thinking. It’s a completely different package you see on third down instead of first and second down.’’
Sophomore Demry Croft and senior Conor Rhoda shared snaps with the first-team offense, and each went through ups and downs.
One positive that the players and coaches saw was the offense’s and defense’s quick answers. On back-to-back plays, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, followed by wide receiver Tyler Johnson catching a pass for a long gain.
“We got shut down a few times the first couple of drives, but then we had some guys step up and make a couple of plays,” running back Rodney Smith said.
The first-team defense threw some complicated looks at Croft and Rhoda.
“Coach [Robb] Smith’s got a fantastic package,” Ciarrocca said of the defensive coordinator. “He takes you right to Calculus. He skips Algebra 1 and 2.’’
Ciarrocca wasn’t ready to say if either Croft or Rhoda had taken a lead in the race for the starting job. “They’re getting to the point where they’re seeing themselves improve, and now they want more,’’ he said.
Bulking up for DE
Sophomore Carter Coughlin, a linebacker last season, is playing defensive end this year, helping shore up depth in a thin group. To prepare for his new role, he has added weight.
“I’m up to 230, hoping to get to 235 before the season,” Coughlin said. “[Last year] I said 220, but I played around 214.”
He’ll need that extra size when facing offensive linemen.
“It’s a big transition for the run game,” he said. “I have to take on tight ends, offensive tackles straight on.”
Near the end of Friday’s practice, some fans in a building overlooking the practice field got into the spirit of the season.
“I smell roses” and “Pasadena” were among the phrases shouted by the onlookers.
“This is the most unique thing I’ve seen in my entire life,” he said. “People in the rafters. This is like Wrigley Field bleachers in the bottom of the eighth inning.”
• The Gophers held a diaper drive in conjunction with Saturday’s practice. An athletic department official reported that 13,546 diapers and 1,169 wipes were collected. They will be donated to the Diaper Bank of Minnesota.