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.
Usually the highlight of each spring practice is a long completion, an athletic interception, or a rushing play that breaks through the defensive line.
Not Thursday. The play that anyone who witnessed it will remember most was over about half a second after it started. Max Shortell took a snap, handed the ball to James Gillum, and heard a loud "Crunch!" beside him. That noise was Ra'Shede Hageman materializing inside Gillum's shoulder pads practically simultaneously with the handoff. I don't know how the junior defensive tackle got six yards deep into the backfield as fast as the football, but it was an impressive sight. Well, to everyone but Gillum, who seemed to bounce off the turf from the crushing hit.
There weren't many long passes Thursday, probably due in part to the persistent wind, but MarQueis Gray did have a handful of well-thrown pass completions. His backup, Max Shortell, didn't have such a great day -- at one point, the offense fumbled the ball on two consecutive snaps (and three times in five plays), one of them a messed-up shotgun snap that sailed over Shortell's head (and into the arms of coach Jerry Kill standing behind the play), the next when Shortell appeared confused over whether to hand the ball to Gillum or keep it himself. Shortell was yanked from the drill after that one, with Philip Nelson jumping in at quarterback.
Nelson showed improvement over Tuesday's practice, and while he did throw an interception, it wasn't really his fault. A Nelson pass bounced off the hands of receiver Derrick Engel and into Jeremy Baltazar's arms.
David Cobb got plenty of carries, but did a nice job of picking up blitzes, too. At one point, the defense sent cornerback Troy Stoudermire loose on Gray's blind side, but Cobb kept him away from the quarterback. There was nobody there when Martez Shabazz blitzed later in the practice; that would have been a sack if defenders were allowed to touch the QB.
Cobb also had a burst around the left side of the line for a 15-yard gain, but fumbled the ball as he was brought down.
The intensity seemed plenty high on the line of scrimmage, and at one point, offensive lineman Zac Epping and linebacker Jephte Matilus got into a shoving match and had to be broken up.
All in all, though Kill was clearly upset with his defensive line after practice, it was a day of progress for the Gophers. And they put on a good show with the BTN watching: Gerry DiNardo, Howard Griffith and Glen Mason were on the field, taking it all in.
One person notably not taking it in: Gopher football sports information director Andy Seeley, who on Friday morning will watch his son Bryant graduate from basic training in Chicago and formally join the U.S. Navy. Congratulations to them both.
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