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 finished their seventh spring practice on Tuesday with a second-and-eight scrimmage, where the offense tries to get a first down in two plays and the defense tries to force a punt. The two sides were roughly even -- each succeeded twice, I believe -- but I call that a great victory for the offense.
Why? Jerry Kill likes test his players by tilting the playing field a little bit. A couple of times, he told the defense that a running play was coming, once saying "Run it again," when a rushing play didn't work, just to see if his offense could execute, and gain yardage, anyway. That's like a catcher yelling "fastball" as the pitcher winds up.
"Oh yeah, I've been known to do that. Sometimes I want to see if we've got some mental toughness in there," Kill said with evident glee. "I want our football team to be more physical, play harder, run and chase the ball and do the little things. And we're a long way away."
A few more items from the Gophers' first practice on their outdoor turf:
-- It was nice to finally move outdoors, Kill said, and he plans to stay there as long as the weather holds. But practicing indoors last Thursday, then in TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday and back at the Gibson-Nagurski complex on Tuesday "is like playing away games all the time," Kill said. "We've played three road games, is the way I look at it. The change out here was a little different. It took them a while to get into a routine."
-- Gary Tinsley took part in some of the individual workouts, but the senior linebacker, coming back from a hamstring injury, sat out anything involving contact. "He's about 75 percent," Kill said. "The hamstring, that's a serious thing."
Christyn Lewis has a sprained ankle, but Kill believes he may practice on Thursday. And receiver Victor Keise returned to practice for the first time since ankle surgery over the winter.
Four Gophers wore brown "Minnesota Lopher" jerseys, but for the most part, they took part in practice. Offensive lineman Jonathan Ragoo was working individually on some techniques, Kill said, but he emphasized it's not a punishment, just extra tutoring.
-- A.J. Barker had the day's highlight, a diving catch in double coverage that had Kill congratulating the junior receiver, then yelling at his defense: "You can't let that happen!" The play was called back anyway, since a pass-rusher, not allowed to hit a quarterback, reached Tom Parish before he could throw the ball. Offensive coordinator pulled an offensive lineman aside to emphasize the point: "You just got him killed."
-- The Gophers worked on their running game in particular, with DeLeon Eskridge and Donnell Kirkwood getting plenty of carries. Eskridge broke three or four tackles and kept a play alive for several seconds on his best run, with Kill telling him, "You should ask for it again."
-- The second-team offense sputtered for awhile, at one point fumbling three times on one series of downs.
-- Ra'Shede Hageman reached a scrambling MarQueis Gray for a rather athletic sack.
-- University president Robert Bruininks visited the practice field for 20 minutes, and said he is impressed with, and optimistic about, the new coaching staff. Former LSU coach and Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo was watching practice, too.
-- The day's best Kill-ism, delivered at high volume as the offense huddled up: "Our running game is as soft as a big ball of chocolate-cookie dough!"
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