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Gopher scrimmage is latest test for competing Gopher QBs

Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Conor Rhoda (15) looks to the sidelines during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Byrd Stadium last October. Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Demry Croft (11) throws a ball before the game against the Washington State Cougars at Qualcomm Stadium last December. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS—The Gophers' live scrimmage on Saturday will be the latest test for quarterbacks Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda in their battle for the starting spot.

They're used to it. They've felt the microscope overhead ever since training camp opened Aug. 1 and have been linked in a battle dating back two years to when they vied to be Mitch Leidner's backup.

"Whether it's me pushing him or him pushing me, it keeps you on your toes," said Rhoda, who was Minnesota's No. 2 a year ago. "It doesn't allow you to be comfortable."

After playing in 2015 and redshirting last year, Croft said he has enjoyed this camp's competition. "We are making each other better and the team better, so I think it's pretty good for us," he said.

Croft, who has bulked up from 175 pounds as a freshman to 205 now, wants to use the scrimmage to see what he needs to work on. "This is a little pre-taste of what we need to get done," he said.

Outside of quarterback duo — each player has 17 career pass attempts — Fleck most wants to see battles along the offensive line, in the secondary and at wide receiver. Players were going to be given game plans Friday night for the scrimmage, which will be held behind closed doors.

"We've got to settle some depth-chart issues," Fleck said. "We've gone live a few times during practice, but we haven't gone in a game-type situation.

"We are going to test them in all areas," he continued. "We are going to put them in every situation possible, put as much heat, as much pressure on them as we possibly can and see who performs at a high level."

CAREFUL WITH WINFIELD

Gophers sophomore safety Antoine Winfield Jr. did not practice Friday after grasping his left hamstring during a punt-block drill in Tuesday's practice. Fleck said the goal is having him ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Aug. 31 at TCF Bank Stadium.

"We are going to be very, very safe with him and hopefully have him back the Buffalo week, but he's progressing really well," Fleck said.

Fleck said he knows what he has in Winfield. "He's one of our best players," Fleck said. "I don't think he has to prove to me what he can do to play."

RECEIVER SHOUTOUT

Fleck said he doesn't often mention unproven players until they've earned it. So it was noteworthy when he again praised freshman wide receiver Demetrius Douglas and Chris Autman-Bell on Friday, calling them "phenomenal" players. He called Douglas one of the team's best wideouts, with plans to play him this fall.

Autman-Bell, however, wore a walking boot on his left foot on Friday. "He might be out just a little bit," said Fleck, without sharing specifics on Autman-Bell's injury. "I don't know how long yet."

Autman-Bell will be monitored to see how he recovers from the setback this week. "It's not a season-ending injury or anything like that," Fleck said.

BRIEFLY

While signing autographs for kids after practice, Fleck saw a young boy in a Clemson T-shirt. Fleck soon had the boy in Gophers gear. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney "would be proud, I promise you," Fleck said. ... Receiver Hunter Register was back on the 105-player fall camp roster and practiced Friday. ... Receiver Mark Williams has also been in a protective boot and not practicing. ... The Gophers are still waiting on freshman defensive back Adam Beck to arrive at training camp. Fleck said last week he was working on academic issues. ... Minnesota will have open practices Tuesday and Thursday, both starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

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