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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Interesting job the head coach has. He's in charge of the big picture, but has to obsess over the tiniest details, too.
So it was that Jerry Kill couldn't enjoy one of the most noteworthy plays during Saturday's spring practice, when tailback David Cobb cut sharply to his right at the line of scrimmage and burst outside, romping roughly 75 yards to the end zone. Impressive adjustment for the sophomore, who has gained significant size and strength in the offseason -- "I wish we'd have redshirted him," Kill was lamenting on Friday, "but we [didn't] have any choice." -- yet the coach noticed the flaw more than the score.
"David Cobb's had a great three days of practice, breaks out a run, but he's carrying the ball like this," Kill said, demonstrating the casual, swinging grasp on the ball. "Someone punches the ball out, and we're all going to be sad."
The coach spent 10 minutes or so addressing the Gophers on that and a few other technical points at the end of Saturday's session, which was attended by several hundred spectators. His assistants have installed the fundamentals, Kill said, but "I'm trying to find all the little details that may prevent us from winning a game."
That may be as good an illustration as any about how far removed the Gophers are from last spring. A year ago, the coaches were spending time on information almost as basic as, "This is a football." Now, the head coach lectures about the angle a pass-rusher should plant his foot, the distance a blocker should hold his hands apart, the shoulder a kick-coverage tackler should lead with. And he gives his standard dissertation on the use of leverage.
He also reverted to drill-sergeant mode a few times during the day, particularly on the receivers. Newcomer Isaac Fruechte got an introduction to the snarling version of his coach after giving up on a play, and Derrick Engel and A.J. Barker received similar high-volume message. Again, though, what stands out about this spring is how less frequent those rants are necessary.
The practice itself was high-spirited, probably because the Gophers were wearing pads for the first time, though there was no tackling. Considering the morning session began barely 16 hours after Friday's ended, "I thought it went well," Kill said. "We went back-to-back-to-back at a really good pace. I thought we started to anchor down just a little bit toward the end," but for the most part, the energy level is high.
Besides Cobb's run, the day's highlight may have been turned in by Michael Carter, the senior defensive back who is trying to get back on the field after gradually losing playing time last fall. When a MarQueis Gray pass bounced off a receiver's hands, Carter dove to make an interception just inches off the ground.
Gray made a couple of nice throws, one to Brandon Green that he placed where only the receiver, who was being blanketed by DB Briean Boddy, could reach it. He also had back-to-back "scoring" passes, one a 30-yard (roughly) connection with C.J. Cesario (whom Kill lavished praise on after practice), and the next on a play where Gray waited for Devin Crawford-Tufts to find an open area in the middle, then hit him in stride for a completion that would have picked up big yards. The defense fought back, though, by "sacking" Gray on the next play.
Marcus Jones looks as elusive, and especially as fast, as he did before his knee injury, and it's something to see. He's certainly fearless, because he's running and cutting like nothing ever happened.
After three straight days of practice, the Gophers get a couple off now. Drills resume Tuesday at 3:15, and are open to the public.
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