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.
Jerry Kill came prepared Wednesday, with notes and everything. Reporters always ask about injuries and position changes, he said, so I brought a list.
So, if you're planning on attending one of the 15 spring practices that start Thursday -- and they're all open to the public again this year -- here's a few things you may notice:
-- Cornerbacks Brock Vereen and Derreck Wells are moving to safety, a position where depth is a significant problem. Vereen was fifth on the Gophers in tackles last season with 67, and led the team in passes broken up (7), while Wells made eight tackles as a freshman. Vereen, a junior next fall, had minor knee surgery over the winter, Kill said, but it sounds likely that he'll take part in at least some drills.
Other position moves:
-- James Manuel, who made 29 tackles as a true freshman but just 11 last season, is moving from safety to weakside linebacker, in order to get more speed on the linebacking corps.
-- Kendall Gregory-McGee, who spent last season trying to fit in on the defensive line, is moving to tight end.
-- Moses Alipate, the Bloomington Jefferson grad who has never taken a snap in three years as a quarterback, is moving to tight end. Alipate now weighs 290 pounds, but Kill said his conditioning is much improved. "We are hoping that one of those guys are going to work out," said Kill, noting that Gregory-McGee weighs 260 pounds. "If both work out, it's really good. You've got some big, athletic tight ends."
-- Redshirt freshman Ernie Heifort, a walk-on tight end from Bemidji, is moving to offensive tackle.
As for injuries, the list is lengthy, and starts with a couple of starters:
-- Senior linebacker Keanon Cooper, coming off surgery on his wrist, will be held out of all contact drills.
-- Sophomore receiver Marcus Jones has made an "unbelievable comeback" from knee-ligament surgery. "You won't even know he got [injured]," Kill said of Jones, who is already running and cutting at full speed. But he won't take part in any contact drills, either.
--Redshirt freshman Foster Bush, who had surgery "to clean up" his knee, is working his way back.
-- Junior linebacker Brendan Beal "has made great progress" from a knee injury that cost him all of last season, but he's probably not ready to take part in football work at all.
-- Junior fullback Mike Henry was involved in a car accident over spring break and suffered a concussion that will keep him out of early drills.
-- Sophomore offensive lineman Jimmy Gjere, who started five games, is being brought along slowly as he recovers from his concussion, and will be working with the trainers during spring ball.
-- Redshirt freshman linebacker Quinn Bauducco had back surgery and is out for the spring. And redshirt freshman cornerback Steven Montgomery tore a pectoral muscle during the offseason and is being held out of contact.
Workouts begin at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow and Friday on the Gibson-Nagurski practice field, and at 10:15 a.m. Saturday. In the following four weeks, the schedule generally calls for workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (there's a night practice on Friday, April 13), with Saturday practices moving to TCF Bank Stadium. The spring game is at 11 a.m. on April 21.
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