Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 17, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Fleck took his team through a brisk two-hour workout today. Competition is a big theme of any Fleck practice. And there was a lot of energy, too. Here are some fun takes.

[ MORE: Dienhart: 5 things I learned at practice | Facebook Live ]

Most impressive player: RB Rodney Smith. The 5-11, 210-pound junior looks to be in peak form. He will team with Shannon Brooks to give the Gophers a vaunted 1-2 punch at running back.

Top specimen: DT Steven Richardson. At 6-0, 292, the senior is a load. He is a bundle of muscle who seemingly is as tall as he is wide. Think ?human fire hydrant.? This defense could line up in a 3-4 often, with Richardson playing a big role.

Loudest coach: P.J. Fleck. This isn?t even close. The guy is mic'd up, bellowing orders over the loud speaker for all to hear. Time again, he and other coaches shouted ?The ball is the program,? emphasizing the need to not commit turnovers.

Impressive newcomer: WR Demetrius Douglas. The 6-0, 181-pound true freshman will play a big role this fall. He is the son of former Gopher wideout Omar. The Portland, Oregon, native was committed to Oregon but flipped to the Gophers after also considering Notre Dame. Douglas is gonna be a good one in an offense that will work at a quicker pace than recent Gopher squads.

On the rise: LB Kamal Martin. The 6-3, 229-pound sophomore is a rangy defender with speed. He was all over the field today and will be a key cog on a linebacking unit that is the strength of this defense with Thomas Barber and Jonathan Celestin also playing key roles. And Cody Poock, Blake Cashman and Carter Coughlin are nice LBs.

Nagging question: Who will be the QB? Sophomore Demry Croft and senior Conor Rhoda are battling. Croft had more of the reps with the first team on this day. He looks to be a bit more accurate. And his ability to evade pressure is valuable. I like him. P.J. Fleck has said he?d like to play both guys. Stay tuned.

Under the radar: OT Donnell Greene. The 6-7, 314-pound junior is load. O-line coach Ed Warinner told me after practice that Greene is his top blocker, but he has been dinged of late and wasn?t always running with the first team. ?He has to earn his way back,? Warinner told me. Greene could be one of the better tackles in the Big Ten.



The practice was a whirl of activity, as people seemed to be in constant motion. And there also was a cacophony of sound from the loud speaker, blasting either music or commands from P.J. Fleck. It was a carnival of activity.

Minnesota is the most inexperienced Power Five team at the QB spot, with just eight appearances and one start at the position.

This was an open practice, and there were probably 200 people on hand to watch a practice that started at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday. The team held a food drive organized by the special teams players.

On off days, P.J. Fleck takes the teams on outings. Thus far in camp, they all went paint-balling, to a movie and to dinner.

P.J. Fleck does all he can to distract K Emmit Carpenter, throwing water bottles and ice at him. Carpenter is unflappable, the best kicker in the Big Ten.