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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A good day for Gopher receivers on Tuesday, with Devin Crawford-Tufts, Malcolm Moulton, A.J. Barker, Drew Goodger and John Rabe all making difficult catches during the various scrimmages.
"I will tell you, they've gotten a whole lot better these last two practices," coach Jerry Kill said afterward.
The offense wasn't exactly dominant -- in fact, the Gopher offense had to punt away its first three possessions -- but there were plenty of big plays as spring practices wind down. There would have been more, too, if MarQueis Gray scrambles weren't immediately blown dead once he cleared the line of scrimmage.
Gray connected for gains of 20-plus yards with Crawford-Tufts (a tremendous reach for the ball in traffic) and Rabe on one touchdown drive, the scoring play coming on a 3-yard pass over the middle to Goodger.
On Gray's next series, Barker caught a deep pass that picked up 25 yards or so.
The backup quarterbacks got some snaps, too, and Philip Nelson's were the most productive. On Nelson's first play from scrimmage, he was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Gopher linebacker Jephte Matilus, coming right up the middle, but Nelson got the yardage back plus a lot more one play later. The freshman quarterback hit Moulton on a short route in front of a linebacker, and Moulton broke a pair of tackles to turn the play into a 30-yard gain. Nelson connected with Crawford-Tufts on another decent gain, then completed the 70-yard touchdown drive by scrambling into the end zone by himself.
Linebacker Mike Rallis and running back Devin Wright were among the players out of action, both limited by hamstring injuries suffered last Friday. Neither injury appears serious, but "we won't take any chances," Kill said.
The coach was annoyed by a series of penalties, but blamed the four-day layoff for some of the sloppiness. Late in the practice, Kill got worked up over a personal foul penalty on the offense. "Sometimes you're not as clean as you'd like," Kill said. "Overall, we're getting better and learning a lot about our players."
They'll get an extra chance this week, too. Kill has rescheduled the April 7 practice, cancelled in the wake of Gary Tinsley's death, for this Friday, a no-pads session that the coach said would serve as a rehearsal for Saturday morning's spring game in TCF Bank Stadium.
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