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Gophers running backs Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts cleared to play

Ibrahim ruptured his Achilles tendon in the 2021 season opener against Ohio State, then Potts suffered an undisclosed injury in the win over Purdue a month later.

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Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushes for a first down against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Nov. 13, 2020 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
USA Today Sports file photo
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INDIANAPOLIS — Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts weren’t cloaked in bubble wrap during spring practices in March, but the effect was the same as the Gophers’ top running back duo watched as teammates went through contact drills and scrimmages.

That will change on Monday.

After serious injuries ended their 2021 seasons by early October, Ibrahim and Potts have been cleared for full contact and will have a month to prepare for the season opener against Jerry Kill-coached New Mexico State on Sept. 1 at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Ibrahim ruptured his Achilles tendon in the season opener against Ohio State, then Potts suffered an undisclosed injury in the win over Purdue a month later. Potts’ ailment was severe enough to cause a six-night hospital stay in Indiana.

At Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday, head coach P.J. Fleck said Ibrahim was “full strength” and “ready to roll.”

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Fleck said the program will try to be smart with Ibrahim during preseason camp, giving him the scrimmage-type hits he needs to reacquaint himself with the physical rushing style that has brought the 2020 Big Ten running back of the year so much success.

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PJ Fleck

“So, when he gets to the game, that last step (live contact) isn’t a worry,” Fleck said.

In December, Potts said he would return to the team in 2022, but Fleck added that Potts needed to be assessed by multiple medical staff, in his home state of Pennsylvania and at the University of Minnesota. He passed a battery of tests.

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“You could see it in his eyes and the way he works,” Fleck said of Potts’ reaction to being cleared. “Toward the end of spring, you knew that was going to happen and you are really excited for him. You saw it in his presence.”

The return of Ibrahim and Potts is instrumental for a team that lost the two running backs who stepped up after the leading duo and others, such as Bryce Williams, were ruled out last season. After the bowl game, Ky Thomas transferred to Kansas. During spring ball, Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving transferred to Oregon.

Potts rushed for 552 yards and six touchdowns on 112 carries before he was involved in a “scary” situation late in the fourth quarter of the 20-13 victory over Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. He left Ross-Ade Stadium in an ambulance and then stayed at multiple hospitals in the state to recover.

Ibrahim rushed 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters of the 45-31 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 2. His injury sidelined him for the rest of the game and season.

Going into his sixth season, Ibrahim is eighth on the U’s career rushing list with 3,003 yards, and was named to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s top running back.

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“He’s going to shock the world again,” Gophers receiver Chris Autman-Bell said of Ibrahim on July 13. “I think a lot of people forget about who Mo Ibrahim is and what he’s done. He’s gonna shut up the world, for sure. He’s got a lot, a lot of actions he’s going to put behind that. Mo already told me what he’s going to do. I will let you see it for yourself.”

Ibrahim was at media days in Indianapolis in 2021 but decided to stay back in Minnesota this year. He has declined other interviews and stayed out of the spotlight. He hasn’t posted any footage of workouts on social media this offseason, but pay that fact no mind, Tanner Morgan said.

“He’s working; it’s as simple as that,” the Gophers quarterback said July 13. “Mo’s not a guy that’s going to show you, put on Instagram how many workouts he’s doing. He’s gonna wake up and he’s gonna do the work and do the grind. He’s gonna do the best he can to be the best teammate he can be every day.”

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