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Gophers football welcomes men’s hoops coach to practice

Ben Johnson watched the second half of Thursday’s open session alongside P.J. Fleck

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Gophers men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson, right, visits head football coach P.J. Fleck for practice at Huntington Bank Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.
Courtesy of Gopher Athletics
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers had two head coaches at Thursday’s practice at Huntington Bank Stadium. Men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson joined P.J. Fleck for the second half of the session open to fans.

They stood next to each other about 20 yards behind the action and talked about … what, exactly?

“Basketball,” Fleck said.

Does Johnson want to nab tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford for his team? The 6-foot-7 former St. Cloud Tech basketball player made arguably the best play of Thursday’s practice. Dealing with defensive pass interference, Spann-Ford caught a touchdown during a seven-on-seven, red-zone period.

“Brevyn is yelling to (Johnson), ‘Our five (players) vs. your five,’ ” Fleck said. “Brevyn, easy, pal. You do that when you are done playing football.”

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“Football coaches want to talk about basketball and basketball coaches want to talk about football,” Fleck added. “I was kind of running practice, so we talked a little bit more basketball than football.”

With the season opener against New Mexico State less than three weeks away, the Gophers will hold a primary scrimmage on Saturday. Starters will open the session before backups take over.

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“There are a lot of competitions still out there to be had,” Fleck said. “That is what we are looking to find out.”

One starting spot still vacant is at linebacker next to Mariano Sori-Marin. The 2021 leading tackler, Jack Gibbens, is now with the Tennessee Titans.

Baugh's hustle

The Gophers planned for Chris Smith to transfer in from Harvard but the defensive tackle changed course and went to Notre Dame instead. The U was forced to look for reinforcements elsewhere and Houston Baptist’s Kyler Baugh stood out on film.

“There is a clip on his highlight tape,” Fleck said. As he described it, an opponent “has a run come spitting out and all of sudden you see the guy on the left side of the screen come flying all the way down. This is a defensive tackle, chasing this wide receiver, this running back, all the way down the field and catches him (inside the 10-yard line). I was sold.”

Baugh has been with the first-team defense in preseason camp alongside returning starting tackle Trill Carter.

Right tackle rotation

Fleck said there could be a rotation at right offensive tackle; Martes Lewis, JJ Guedet and Quinn Carroll are in the running.

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“It’s getting clearer but I don’t know the dust is just going to settle,” the coach said. “I think we are going to have a little bit more of a rotation, maybe. than we did last year (with Daniel Faalele holding down the spot). But I think that can help us.”

Carroll, an Edina native via Notre Dame, did not play a lot for the Irish and is looking to get into better shape and up to speed at the U.

Leading the young

When true freshman tailback Zach Evans fumbled in Thursday’s practice, preseason All-America center John Michael Schmitz was quick to meet Evans. “Head up,” the sixth-year lineman advised. “Head up.”

Let's dance

When fifth-year cornerback Terell Smith broke up a pass on sixth-year receiver Chris Autman-Bell on Thursday, Fleck sprinted down the field to dance with Smith.

“This is supposed to be fun,” Fleck said. “I know it’s a business and we’re supposed to win, but when you’re around 17- to 23-year-olds for a living, it keeps you young.”

Briefly

The U has been impressed with true freshman safety Coleman Bryson. Fleck said he could see Bryson removing his redshirt in 2022. Special teams is the first spot he would contribute.. … WR Daniel Jackson and DT Logan Richter missed practice. Jackson has been out a full week, and his recovery from a lower left-leg injury might extend past the Sept. 1 opener.

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