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Mohamed Ibrahim carrying Gophers' ground game, with Shannon Brooks on deck

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim (24) rushes as Maryland Terrapins running back Lorenzo Harrison III (2) dives to tackle during the third quarter at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium in College Park, Md., on Sept. 22, 2018. Tommy Gilligan / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim has had Rodney Smith speaking into one ear, Shannon Brooks in the other, and Kobe McCrary sending text messages and telephoning from afar.

All three of Minnesota's top rushers last year are doing all they can to help Ibrahim, this year's starter, navigate his redshirt freshman season.

"Rodney has always been watching film with me and teaching me techniques. Always in my head," Ibrahim said. "He is the mental part. Shannon is always the physical part. He tells me to keep it going in practice because I get a lot of reps."

Ibrahim finds himself in this leading role after McCrary graduated, Brooks tore the anterior cruciate ligament last winter, and Smith tore his ACL in the second game this year.

Ibrahim has 48 carries for 258 yards (5.4 per carry) in three games. He was the backup to Smith out of training camp and showed why with a 74-yard run in the 48-10 win over New Mexico State in the season opener.

But he was hurt on the play and missed the next two games, with Bryce Williams leading the way in two other nonconfernece wins. Then Ibrahim, of Onley, Md., returned to start both Big Ten games, including in front of 60 family and friends in the 42-13 loss at Maryland.

Brooks will soon be able to add a backfield boost. The senior, who will redshirt and play in only four games under the NCAA's new rule, has been participating in some contact drills during practice.

Brooks has gone through warmups before games. While he wears a new number (4), Gophers fans are reminded of the ability Brooks has shown over his first three years — a bruising style capable of busting off big runs. He has 1,728 yards over 28 games with 17 touchdowns, including five of 37 yards or longer.

While Brooks is not expected to play for Minnesota's game against Ohio State on Saturday, Oct. 13, in Columbus, his return sounds increasingly imminent.

"We want to make sure he feels 100 percent, not 98, he's 100 percent," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "And that is what we are waiting for. I think we are getting closer."

In the meantime, the primary work load has gone to Ibrahim, with Williams filling in. Fleck has praised the strength coming from Ibrahim's 5-foot-10, 205-pound body, as well as his vision, which Smith has made his top character trait at Minnesota.

While Smith is seeking a medical redshirt to return for a sixth season next fall, he has show Ibrahim how to see more of the blocking scheme and defense.

"He put in work for it," Ibrahim said. "It's not like he woke up, and he had it. I definitely see how he got it."

Offensive coordination Kirk Ciarrocca has seen Smith and Brooks sharing their experiences with Ibrahim.

"I hear them talking to him," he said. "They will tell him, 'Hey, this is how we see that block or this is how we see this play.' "

From Brooks, Ibrahim has seen how "he just don't get tired. He is always up and has the energy, and he's someone I can learn from."

Soon, Ibrahim will be able to learn alongside Brooks.

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