P.J. Fleck’s Gophers on Saturday will hold the first of three training camp practices open to the public, this one at TCF Bank Stadium, at 3 p.m. As part of its annual Family Day event, the team has invited fans to tailgate and donate diapers and nonperishable Thanksgiving stuffing, with players available for post-practice autographs.
The other open practices are Friday and Aug. 16 at the Athletes Village, with the season opener coming Aug. 29 against South Dakota State.
The Gophers opened training camp Wednesday, but Saturday will be their first full-pad practice.
Here are five players to watch:
1. Antoine Winfield Jr. sophomore safety
It’s been two long years since Winfield’s freshman season, when he made 52 tackles and established himself as a starter on a 9-4 team. He played just four games each of the next two seasons before injuries cut them short. Back healthy from his latest foot injury, Winfield is the only for-sure starter in the Gophers’ secondary, and the defense is counting on him again.
2. Tyler Nubin freshman cornerback
Nubin could play either safety or cornerback in a wide-open secondary competition. But Fleck said the four-star recruit will begin at corner. New cornerbacks coach Rod Chance will work with Nubin in the next month and see how he works into the position group.
3. Micah Dew-Treadway JUNIOR DEFENSIVE TACKLE
After losing the top three defensive tackles from last year’s squad, the defensive line — with new coach Jim Panagos at the helm — is short on experience. Dew-Treadway has 21 games of that from Notre Dame, albeit in a limited role, and the graduate transfer earned plenty of starting reps with the Gophers during spring practices. He will aim to continue that momentum into training camp.
4. Rodney Smith senior running back
Smith’s been on the team since 2014 and has accumulated 2,959 rushing yards in his career. But a knee injury ended what should have been his senior season last year after two games. Fleck said Smith is fully cleared to play for training camp, and Smith himself is waiting for that first tackle to judge his readiness. If he shakes off the rust, he and sophomore Mohamed Ibrahim will make a dynamic tandem. Add in senior Shannon Brooks when cleared from his knee injury, and the running game looks pretty set.
5. Zack Annexstad/ Tanner Morgan sophomore quarterbacks
The Gophers are in a signal-caller battle, so Annexstad and Morgan will have attention this August no matter what. The two split time last year, Annexstad going 3-4 as the starter before injuries sidelined him, with Morgan finishing the season at 4-2, including big wins at Wisconsin and in the bowl game. Annexstad passed for nine touchdowns with seven interceptions, 1,277 yards and a 51.9 completion percentage. Morgan tallied the same TDs, one fewer interception, 1,401 yards and a 58.6 completion percentage. They will start practices splitting reps evenly, Fleck said, but performance each day will determine who earns more opportunities.
Redshirt freshman tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford is up to 270 pounds and could be in for a breakout season; sophomore right tackle Daniel Faalele is 6-9, 400 pounds and couldn’t go unnoticed if he tried; sophomore linebacker Thomas Rush had a strong spring ball and could fill in the hole with Blake Cashman in the NFL.