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.
A few notes from Spring Practice #1 on Tuesday:
* WR Jamel Harbison (ACL surgery) looked fully healthy. He had good speed and sharp cuts. He wore a green jersey (limited contact), but seemed fearless as he sprinted through the workout. Granted, the players weren’t in pads -- just helmets, jerseys and shorts -- but Harbison didn’t look the least bit tentative. Coach Jerry Kill said he was surprised to see Harbison moving that well throughout the session, knowing how tough those first practices can be for players coming off ACL surgery.
“I didn’t anticipate him going along as far in practice as he did today, so that was a good thing,” Kill said.
* Redshirt freshman Jack Lynn played middle linebacker with the first-team defense, in between outside linebackers Aaron Hill and James Manuel. Junior college transfer Damien Wilson played MLB with the second-team defense. Wilson doesn’t blow you away with his speed, but his JUCO tackling numbers are nothing to sneeze at. Let’s see how these guys do when the full pads come on Saturday.
* Derrick Wells saw extensive time at cornerback. The first-team safeties were Brock Vereen and Cedric Thompson.
* RB Donnell Kirkwood said he shed about five pounds over the offseason, even though his weightlifting numbers are up. Other veteran observers who have been following this team thought he looked quicker than last season.
* I was able to confirm that North Carolina State made a run at Gophers recruiting coordinator Billy Glasscock over the offseason, but Minnesota was able to retain him. Kill first revealed that in a Q&A with ESPN.com's Brian Bennett.
* I wrote about the quarterback competition for today's paper, noting that Philip Nelson looked confident all day working with the first-team offense, connecting on most of his passes with the exception of a few overthrows. Mitch Leidner has a strong arm, but didn’t look as polished as Nelson. And as expected, Chris Streveler showed some first-day nerves.
MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS
This was my first time covering spring practice, at least since the Wacker era, and my main impression is that there's nothing leisurely about it. It's high-tempo, with very little standing around. Between drills, players hustle to their next stations. There's music pumping from the speakers -- good stuff.
Kill and his players seemed very pleased with how things went for the first day. Kirkwood, a redshirt junior, said it felt like the middle of summer practice.
Asked what excites him about this year’s team, Kirkwood said: “How far we’re along on just the first day of spring. It’s somewhat scary because I’ve never been a part of anything like this.”
As a reminder, these practices are open to the public. There were a few dozen folks on hand to watch Tuesday. Here's the schedule. The next one is Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Saturday's practice, originally scheduled for TCF Bank Stadium, has been moved back inside the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.
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