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 spent almost a third of Thursday's practice preparing for the summer, apparently under the still-to-be-proven assumption that summer -- or spring -- will ever actually arrive around here.
Anyway, after Saturday's final practice -- a short, scripted scrimmage among the few remaining uninjured Gophers that will have to pass as a "spring game" -- the football team won't be able to work out with coaches' supervision again until August. So in the cold and wind of TCF Bank Stadium, the coaches ran each position group through drills that they can add to their own workouts this summer.
"We gave them some ideas of the things they can do on their own," coach Jerry Kill said. He's hearing from several of his players that they intend to remain in Minneapolis after classes end, rather than go home, "so that's a good thing. They're buying into [the fact that] we're behind and we need to catch up."
Orange jerseys numbered nearly a dozen, hampering the work the Gophers have been able to do. "We can't practice at the pace we want to," Kill said. "But they know now how quick it's going to move. I'll let them know that what they got was a small taste of what [fall camp] is going to be like. And I'll guarantee that [strength and conditioning] Coach [Eric] Klein this summer will take care of a lot of our problems for us. He always has."
A few more notes from the penultimate practice:
-- The "Football Frenzy" that the Gophers had hoped would reignite student interest in football fizzled, thanks to the winter that won't end. It was supposed to be a giant pizza party last Friday, but was postponed until Thursday by the snow that day. Thursday wasn't much better, with mid-40s temps, and the 3 p.m. start time wasn't particularly convenient for students. So while the Gophers had 500 team blankets to give away, and pizza and soft drinks for at least that many, perhaps a couple of hundred students actually showed up.
Student interest will be a little easier to gauge on Saturday. Not only will the free spring game be staged at 1 p.m., but student season tickets, at $84 apiece, will go on sale at 9 a.m. The price includes a free Gopher t-shirt, and purchasers will be entered in a drawing for a trip to Los Angeles for the Gophers' season opener at USC.
-- There weren't many offensive or defensive highlights, since so much of the day was devoted to skelly drills or 9-on-7 matchups, and all the 11-on-11 work was situational.
That said, Ge'Shun Harris made a nice catch down the left sideline of a MarQueis Gray pass, which would have gained 40-50 yards had it not been blown dead.
Also, Duane Bennett made a nice fake on a run to the left, then cut inside into a huge hole, a burst that also would have been a touchdown or at least a big gain.
-- Among the many players doing conditioning rather than practicing were tight end Eric Lair, tackle Jimmy Gjere, wideouts Da'Jon McKnight, Brandon Green, A.J. Barker and Victor Keise, linebacker Spencer Reeves and quarterback Tom Parish. The latter's inclusion for the first time meant that sophomore Moses Alipate took nearly all the snaps at quarterback behind MarQueis Gray.
-- The first scrap of the spring -- it was way to minor to qualify as a "fight" -- occurred between linebacker Gary Tinsley and center Ryan Wynn, who shoved each other for roughly three seconds.
-- Matt Limegrover had a funny reaction to a missed assignment by one of his offensive linemen. "Get out! Get out!" he yelled as a substitute trotted in. "I'm tired of you!" Still, he took the time to walk over and explain the mistake.
-- Saturday's spring game will be televised by the Big Ten Network, but not until Sunday at 6 p.m. (Funny, the BTN chose Ohio State's scrimmage over Minnesota's for live coverage. Go figure.) For fans who want to watch it live, but can't make it to TCF Bank Stadium, the network will stream the game online at bigtennetwork.com.
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