Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
The Gophers were supposed to practice in shorts and shoulder pads Thursday morning, then switch to full uniforms for a late-afternoon workout. But after the first session, which was devoted almost entirely to special teams and individual drills, the coaches changed their mind and made the second practice a shorts-and-shoulder-pads, too.
Why? Because the team will hold a full-blown scrimmage on Friday morning, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said, so they didn't want the players to be tackled to the ground twice in such a short time span. But Claeys said, in that Kansas coachspeak that's so enjoyable, that Thursday's practice would be physical even without full pads. "We're still gonna thud," he said.
Marvelous. And the Gophers did thud a little bit, though the biggest thud was administered by the defense on the final play of practice. Cornerback Briean Boddy, who had been picked on by quarterbacks a couple of times during the no-huddle drill, stepped in front of a Mitch Leidner pass and took it in stride down the sidelines 35 yards into the end zone.
That wrapped up an afternoon session that included plenty of team play, from 7-on-7 skelly drills to situational scrimmages, and more highlight-reel moments than the past week combined.
There was the perfect pass dropped on Isaac Fruechte's hands by Max Shortell, a 20-yard gainer or so. There was Philip Nelson's long completion to Malcolm Moulton. There was MarQueis Gray's 30-yard scoring strike to Jamel Harbison. There was Gray's 35-yard gain to an outstretched Derrick Engel, a pass caught between defenders Michael Carter and Brock Vereen. And there was probably the most impressive catch of the day, a 30-yard beauty that Andre McDonald went high to catch while running full speed, foiling some pretty tight defense by Jeremy Baltazar. Shortell threw it, and he skipped down the field to celebrate.
The defense had a few highlights, too. Carter leaped to break up a nice Shortell-to-Logan Hutton completion over the middle, and Troy Stoudermire made a one-handed interception of a Nelson pass. And defensive end D.L. Wilhite scooped up a fumbled snap, took it 20 yards to the end zone, and dunked it over the goalpost.
The morning workout wasn't nearly as interesting, though it did feature freshman K.J. Maye, who has mostly played tailback so far, lining up at wide receiver and catching a couple of passes. The completions weren't as impressive as Maye's moves past the defense once he caught the ball, though. The Gopher coaches seem to be enjoying the versatility of their quickest player.
Funniest moment came during a kick-coverage drill, though. Head coach Jerry Kill was conducting the drill himself, teaching would-be tacklers how to deal with double-teams. But as they began the drill, there was no ball carrier to simulate a returner. McDonald stepped in a couple of times in the role, and place-kicker Chris Hawthorne gave it a try, but Kill was unhappy with his speed. Then running backs coach Brian Anderson jogged upfield as the kick returner, and Kill cracked, "If we play teams with a returner that slow, we're going to win a hell of a lot of games!"
Friday morning is the final chance for Gopher fans to see the football team practice this fall. The scrimmage, to be held in TCF Bank Stadium, will begin at 10:25 a.m.
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