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.

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Jones begins class; Gophers hope he can practice next spring; Ekpe likely out for season

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting, Gophers injuries Updated: September 2, 2014 - 3:44 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill said running back Jeff Jones was excited for his first day of class today at the university and that the team hopes Jones is eligible to begin practicing for spring semester.

Kill didn't give specifics, but this likely means that Jones has been granted partial approval of an initial eligibility waiver by the NCAA. Jones can't take part in team activities, including practices, this fall, but would be eligible for spring semester if he posts a 2.5 GPA this fall.

Jones was right on the bubble to qualify for Division I coming out of Minneapolis Washburn high school. After applying for the initial eligibility waiver, Jones was granted his athletic scholarship, and now he has a chance to prove himself in the classroom.

"I think he's happy and excited," Kill said. "First day of school. You know, I saw him this morning. Hopefully he'll be practicing in the spring. There's certain things that I won't mention, how the NCAA works and all that. But cautiously optimistic to see how that works out."

Jones could be a big part of the team next fall, with running backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood graduating.

Ekpe likely out for season

Kill said it looks pretty certain that defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is out for the season with a knee injury. Ekpe is a junior and would be able to get a medical redshirt year, giving him two more years of eligibility.

"That's a major blow," Kill said.

Ekpe made his first career start in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, but injured the knee during the first quarter.

Ekpe played in all 13 games the past two seasons, recording 33 tackles, including five tackles for a loss. To fill his place, the Gophers likely will tab true freshman Steven Richardson to start next to senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli.

Kill also said the Gophers have moved Harold Legania back to defensive tackle. He had moved to the offensive line late in training camp.

Other injury notes

Kill said wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be ready to play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Wolitarsky missed last week's game with an injury near his shoulder.

Kill didn't give specifics on the injuries and said he'd need to see how the week goes along for defensive end Alex Keith and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms.

"They're not lost for the season, and we'll see how this week progresses with them," Kill said.

Keith made his first career start against Eastern Illinois and delivered a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries before injuring his left leg. Keith was filling in for starting defensive end Michael Amaefula, who missed the opener with a knee injury but is expected to return for Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee.

Kill regarding D-line injuries: 'It doesn't look good for at least one of them'

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers injuries Updated: August 31, 2014 - 10:38 AM

Jerry Kill took note of the defensive line injuries Wisconsin suffered in Saturday's loss to LSU and could feel the Badgers pain.

Wisconsin lost Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring. The Badgers needed to replace their front seven from last year's team, and once those starters went down, LSU steamrolled them.

Meanwhile, the Gophers are dealing with leg injuries to defensive linemen Scott Ekpe, Alex Keith and Yoshoub Timms from Thursday's win over Eastern Illinois.

"It doesn't look real good for at least one of them," Kill said Sunday on his weekly appearance with Sid Hartman and Dave Mona on 830-AM. "That's definitely a concern we're addressing as we speak."

Kill didn't give specifics, but there were indications Friday that Ekpe could have suffered a season-ending knee injury. Kill's next scheduled media appearance is Tuesday at his weekly press conference. Here's my story looking at how those injuries could impact the Gophers moving forward.

Injuries to Scott Ekpe and Alex Keith concerning for Gophers

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers injuries Updated: August 29, 2014 - 1:55 PM

Three Gophers defensive linemen are having MRIs for leg injuries today, and the team is particularly concerned about starting defensive tackle Scott Ekpe's right knee.

Ekpe injured his right knee early in Thursday's season opener. He went to the sidelines, had ice on the knee, and was later seen on crutches. Coach Jerry Kill didn't have any specific updates today, but confirmed that three players are having MRIs.

Defensive end Alex Keith also has a left knee injury that has the team concerned, and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms appeared to injure his left ankle.

"You can’t lose any front-line players and be where you need to be," Kill said. "You can have all the depth in the world but then you get less depth. To be successful. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to be lucky, so hopefully we’ll get lucky on this deal, we’ll have to see."

Kill said he might not have details until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.

Kill said defensive end Michael Amaefula and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be back from their respective injuries for the Sept. 6 game against Middle Tennessee State. Offensive tackle Ben Lauer also should be ready to return from his high ankle sprain.

Filling in for Amaefula, Keith had a terrific game against Eastern Illinois, with a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

"Kids mature," Kill said of Keith. "I would say he’s the David Cobb of the defense. He’s matured. I just hope he’s OK."

Postgame: Aside from defensive injuries, a pretty good night for the Gophers

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers game day Updated: August 29, 2014 - 12:14 AM

All in all, it was a pretty good night for the Gophers. Not a bad way to start the season.

Here's my game story. And here's my notebook, with items on Berkley Edwards, Drew Wolitarsky, the kicking game, etc.

The defense was terrific, as Amelia Rayno writes here, but coach Jerry Kill is admittedly concerned about injuries along the defensive line.

The talent is there for Mitch Leidner; he just needs to find it, Jim Souhan writes.

Sid Hartman thinks the Gophers have plenty of room to improve.

Halftime blog: Gophers overcome shaky start, lead Eastern Illinois 14-0

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers game day Updated: August 28, 2014 - 7:33 PM

The Gophers took a 14-0 lead into the locker room at halftime against Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mitch Leidner got off to a shaky start for the Gophers as they punted twice and fumbled once on their first three drives.

But Eastern Illinois botched two snaps, with the first one derailing its first drive and the second one giving Minnesota the ball at the Panthers’ 5-yard line.

On third-and-goal, Leidner scrambled for a 2-yard touchdown run.

Minnesota’s defense kept holding strong, and then Leidner led the Gophers on a 90-yard touchdown drive late in the half. He found Maxx Williams for a 25-yard gain and then hit Donovahn Jones, who shook a defender and raced 35 yards for a touchdown.

Leidner completed his final five passes of the half. He was 7-for-12 overall for 100 yards.

David Cobb had eight carries for 47 yards.

The Gophers had two defensive tackles get hurt in the first half -- Scott Ekpe and Yoshoub Timms. Throw in Michael Amaefula, who hasn't played, and that's three defensive linemen injured.

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