Four things to watch Thursday at rare open Gophers football practice

The last time fans got to see Gophers coach P.J. Fleck's football team at Huntington Bank Stadium was in a home loss against Ohio State in November. A lot has changed since then.

The 2024 version of Fleck's Gophers are different in key areas, including quarterback and others.

The Gophers opted not to hold a spring game, so Thursday at 4:30 p.m. will be the best chance for fans to attend spring practice. Members of the Gophers' name, image and likeness (NIL) collective, Dinkytown Athletes, were allowed to attend the U's first open practice March 23 at the Athletes Village facility.

Here are four things to watch at the stadium:

QB changes at top

Coaches and players raved about the seamless transition of New Hampshire transfer Max Brosmer. The U had lacked a veteran presence like Brosmer at quarterback since Tanner Morgan graduated two years ago.

Among the most glaring similarities between Brosmer and Morgan is vocal leadership, which has aided in building chemistry with top wide receiver Daniel Jackson and others on offense.

"I can't throw the ball to a spot if the receivers aren't going to be there," Brosmer, a team captain, said. "Without training with the guys for hours and hours on end, there's no way that can happen. That goes back to the desire to get better and grow. We're growing as a unit ... that's the really exciting part."

The only returning quarterback from last year is walk-on Max Shikenjanski from Stillwater. So the Gophers have used spring ball to get a good look at highly touted freshman Drake Lindsey, the Arkansas Gatorade player of the year. The 6-5, 235-pound Fayetteville native is expected to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Brosmer in the fall.

Taylor's backups?

Starting his career as the Big Ten's leading rusher after three games last year, Darius Taylor seems ready to establish himself again among the league's top backs. But the Gophers don't want to wear him out coming off a freshman year where he was limited with a leg injury.

The spring competition behind Taylor has been intriguing between returning junior Jordan Nubin, Ohio transfer Sieh Bangura (811 yards and seven touchdowns in 2023) and Oklahoma transfer Marcus Major. Bangura and Major could also be involved in the passing game.

"One thing that you don't want to have happen is an entire season with a guy having 20, 30, 40 carries every game," Gophers running back coach Nic McKissic-Luke said. "We're going to do what we need to win football games. But you want to have depth in your room."

Illinois native Jaydon Wright, cousin of former Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell, graduated high school early to join the team this spring. He'll be a freshman to keep an eye on at tailback.

Pass rush talent

Standing near the Gophers' defensive ends on Thursday is the best way to get a sense of how much they look the part physically, especially 6-5, 265-pound senior Jah Joyner and 6-6, 285-pound sophomore Anthony Smith.

Joyner, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, and Smith are oozing with NFL potential as pass rushing talents. Smith has the opportunity to learn from several seniors, including Danny Striggow and Jalen Logan-Redding.

Walley and Co.

The return of senior cornerback Justin Walley was huge for the Gophers secondary with his 32 career starts. His ability to set the tone this spring could be a sign of a big year for the unit.

Tre'Von Jones, third on the team in tackles in 2023, was lost to graduation. But the cornerback room is still deeper this year. A newcomer to watch is Bucknell transfer Ethan Robinson.