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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Matilus transfers to North Dakota

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers roster moves Updated: April 21, 2015 - 2:43 PM

Former Gophers linebacker Jephete Matilus has transferred to North Dakota, his new school announced Tuesday.

Matilus, a senior from Delray Beach, Fla., played in 21 career games for the Gophers, mostly on special teams. He came to Minnesota as a linebacker and switched to fullback before last season. Matilus will switch back to defense at North Dakota and will be eligible to play this fall.

"We are always looking for ways to improve our football team, and I think we have done that with the addition of Jephete," North Dakota coach Bubba Schweigert said in the press release. "He is an athletic linebacker from a successful Big Ten program that will have one season to play for us. He contributed on a number of special teams for the Gophers and we expect him to do the same here, while competing for playing time at outside linebacker."

McShay sees Williams as NFL second rounder with Cobb drafted on Day 3

Posted by: Joe Christensen under NFL draft, Gophers awards and honors Updated: April 17, 2015 - 1:18 PM

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Friday that he still views former Gophers tight end Maxx Williams as a second-round pick with running back David Cobb as a Day Three pick (rounds 4-7). McShay had similar thoughts back in January, but I jumped on his teleconference today to see if his thoughts had changed after the Combine, etc.

On Williams, McShay said: "I've got a really good grade on him in terms of intangibles. Everyone I've talked to around the program -- he knows what it takes to be a pro. Good work ethic, the family, obviously, his dad, his grandfather [were football standouts],and I haven't heard anything negative in that regard.

"I would take Maxx Williams probably in the second round and feel really good about it. And I think after that [among tight ends], it's Clive Walford from Miami and probably a little drop off. I think [Williams is] a really good solid all-around player, and I expect him to be the first tight end off the board."

McShay didn't seem to think Cobb's quadriceps injury from the Combine will have a big impact. Cobb showed he was back to full health this week at his pro day.

"I've got a third day grade on him," McShay said. "I know some people are a little bit higher on him. To each their own. So my guess is he'll probably be somewhere in the middle rounds in what is really shaping up to be one of the deeper running back classes I can remember in a long time."

My take: If Williams is option 1A at tailback for Gophers, Smith is 1B

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers spring football Updated: April 15, 2015 - 3:00 PM

Rodrick Williams appeared to solidify himself as the Gophers' No. 1 tailback this spring, but this probably won't be a David Cobb situation, where Williams takes over and gets 24 carries per game.

I think the Gophers will look for a solid 1B to complement Williams as the 1A, and from what I gathered, the 1B is clearly Rodney Smith. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith emerge as the lead option by midseason.

Berkley Edwards is in the mix, but he's definitely the third option behind Williams and Smith. Jeff Jones would be right in the mix, but the Gophers have fallen in love with him as a receiver. He worked in the slot this spring, and Kill said he'd even like to get Jones some work as an outside receiver, too.

The Gophers also have three incoming freshman running backs this summer -- Shannon Brooks (from Jasper, Ga.), Jonathan Femi-Cole (Vaughan, Ont.) and James Johannesson (Fargo, N.D.). The coaches like all three of them, but if I had to bet, I think Brooks has the best chance to play this fall.

Smith is the guy I keep hearing about from people inside and outside the program. He's 5-11, 202 pounds and has plenty of speed and shiftiness. When you watch him closely, you can just tell he knows what he's doing.

His numbers weren't overwhelming in the spring game -- 12 carries for 41 yards (3.3 average). But he was working with the No. 2 offensive line, and on several carries, there just wasn't anything there. Smith had two runs that stood out, a 17 yarder and an 11 yarder where he made quick moves to get to the second level.

"We knew he was a good player," coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday during the Big Ten West media conference call. "Nobody talked about him too much, but he had a very, very good spring. I thought all our backs did a great job.

"The thing that makes [Smith] really good as a young back is his pass protection, blitz pickup, out of the backfield. Some of those things where you don’t expect it out of a freshman. Usually, you’re begging for them to pass block sometimes, but he did a good job."

Smith was unavailable to the media this spring because he has yet to play in a game. But here are two other stories I've written with background on him, one with thoughts from Matt Limegrover, and one with thoughts from Smith's high school coach in Jonesboro, Ga. Gophers followers might want to study up on Smith because they'll be hearing a lot about him this fall.

Gophers football coaches let players run practice, setting up offseason

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers post season Updated: April 14, 2015 - 10:31 AM

Spring practice has ended. So what now?

The Gophers are back in the weight room already. The coaches have left them on their own to practice until training camp opens Aug. 6. But these captains' practices aren't just a bunch of guys out throwing the ball around. It's an extension of the things they worked on throughout spring practice.

In other words, they'll be out there working on the no-huddle offense, etc. Last Friday, on the day before the spring game, the coaches wanted to see how it would look, so they let the players run practice. The players built their own practice scripts and everything. Mitch Leidner ran the offense. Briean Boddy-Calhoun handled the defensive backs. Jon Christenson, who is rehabbing a leg injury, had a visor on with a sheet of paper filled with practice information, in a tribute to Matt Limegrover.

"They did awesome," coach Jerry Kill said. "Our job is to get those guys so knowledgeable that they could go coach if they wanted to. They need to understand everything."

Here's a quick look at the offseason timeline:

Next Monday -- Assistant coaches hit the road recruiting.

The players continue with conditioning workouts and captains' practices through the end of spring semester finals, May 16.

Mid-June -- The incoming freshmen move onto campus. Summer school starts June 15.

June 8 - Aug. 5 -- Summer workouts and captains' practices.

July 30-31 -- Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Aug. 6 -- Training camp opens.

Sept. 3 -- Season opener against TCU.

Minnesota at Iowa will be a night game, Nov. 14

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers on TV Updated: April 13, 2015 - 3:23 PM

The battle for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy is going primetime.

The Gophers play at Iowa on Nov. 14, and that will be a night game televised on Big Ten Network, the network announced Monday. (Note: The specific start time wasn't announced.)

The Big Ten used to refrain from staging night games in November, but schools are embracing the trend, knowing that's when viewership is highest.

The ESPN/ABC assignments will be announced at a later time. Here is the full list of BTN primetime games this fall:

Sept. 12 -- South Alabama at Nebraska

Sept. 19 -- Rutgers at Penn State

Sept. 26 -- Hawaii at Wisconsin

Oct. 3 -- Michigan at Maryland

Oct. 10 -- Michigan State at Rutgers

Nov. 14 -- Minnesota at Iowa

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