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.
When Jerry Kill took over at Southern Illinois a decade ago, he decided for the long-term health of the program to ignore his instinct to play his best players. Anyone who could redshirt did so, and the result was a 1-10 season -- and a brighter future.
He's chosen a different path at Minnesota, though, mostly because the Gophers don't have enough depth on the roster to compete without help from the freshmen. So Saturday's parade of youngsters was more than an audition for the bench -- it was a preview of what fans will see this season.
Is there any doubt after Saturday that David Cobb will get some carries this season? Or that Marcus Jones will be one of MarQueis Gray's frequent targets? Max Shortell and Tom Parish rotated backup series at quarterback during Saturday's scrimmage, but Shortell looks like Gray's No. 2.
The commitment to youth will make the Gophers unpredictable this year, but Kill sounds ready to live with it. Speaking of Cobb, for instance, the coach said "He still makes freshman mistakes, but we've got one senior tailback (Duane Bennett) and the rest are all freshmen. So they're all going to make mistakes."
A few observations from the last preseason public look at the Gophers:
-- I didn't mention the defense in my Star Tribune story, but the linebackers in particular had a big day, despite the absence of Mike Rallis, sidelined by the flu. Brendon Beal charged into the backfield for a sack at one point, and Keanon Cooper had a sack and a bunch of tackles. Safety Kim Royston made a crunching tackle of Da'Jon McKnight.
-- Max Shortell and MarQueis Gray each fumbled, or at least bobbled, snaps early on, and a feeling of "here we go again" was evident. But the sloppy play was reversed quickly, and I didn't see another one the rest of the day. Fewer penalties, too, as Kill pointed out. There was a delay-of-game penalty, however, something I'm guessing we don't see much of this year.
-- Lamonte Edwards seems to have listened to his coaches' urging to be a more physical back, rather than try to emulate Duane Bennett's elusive style. He had an impressive touchdown from the 1-yard line, getting hit at the line of scrimmage and then powering through for the score.
-- Kill was on his offensive line most of the day, constantly complaining about their technique or sloppiness. Afterwards, though, he reiterated how tired the squad is right now. "That means he cares. If he's not on your back, you probably should worry," said senior guard Chris Bunders. "The more coaching we get, the better we get."
-- Hard not to enjoy the manic way Kill coaches; on one play, an eight-yard gain by Cobb, Kill shouted at safety James Manuel, "You've got to make that tackle, James! You've got to! ... Nice run, Cobb!"
-- Shortell improved as the day went on, but near the end, he was given the ball on his own 30 during the two-minute drill and told, "You've got to score." He almost connected on a 30-yard pass to Logan Hutton, but the ball was dropped. Then he was sacked by Ben Perry, and threw a pair of incompletions, the fourth-down pass overthrown. Chalk it up to a good learning moment.
-- Gary Tinsley fought his way through the line to block a punt, but Dan Orseske followed on the next snap with a 60-yard punt.
-- Tom Parish had a nice 15-yard scramble for a first down, but a couple of plays later earned Kill's wrath. "You don't even know the down and distance!" an appalled Kill yelled.
-- The Gophers simulated overtime for a couple of series, and each ended with a missed field goal: a 39-yard miss by Jordan Wettstein, and a 33-yarder by Chris Hawthorne, both wide left.
-- Da'Jon McKnight's ability to grab a jump ball over a cornerback is going to come in handy this season.
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