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.
With Mitch Leidner entrenched as the No. 1 quarterback, the main QB intrigue in Gophers camp involves his backups.
Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler is the No. 2 starter. Will he be ready if Leidner gets injured? If not, next in line is Conor Rhoda, another redshirt freshman who walked on out of Cretin-Derham Hall.
Streveler, from Crystal Lake, Ill., has had up-and-down moments through the first week of practice, but he delivered the biggest offensive highlight Wednesday.
Streveler hit wide receiver Logan Hutton in stride on a skinny post for a 28-yard touchdown pass. For the celebration, Streveler ran to the end zone and jumped all over Hutton.
“Coach Kill always talks about having juice, so that was fun,” Streveler said. “It’s always fun to make a big play in practice. It was the first live period [of camp], so it was pretty sweet.”
Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said Streveler “sometimes plays better when he’s ticked.”
“I ripped him a little bit [Tuesday], and he just went crazy, [completing] throw after throw,” Zebrowski said. “He wants the ball on the next play.”
The rest of the field
Here are some quick thoughts from Zebrowski on the other Gophers quarterbacks besides Leidner and Streveler:
* On Rhoda: “Conor has a really, really strong arm and can stay in the pocket. And he’s really, really smart and can make some plays too. He can put the ball in some places some other kids can’t.”
* On Dimonic Roden-McKinzy (true freshman from Kansas City): “Kids just figure things out at different times. And for Dimonic, it’s taken him a while because things are going [fast], and him being shorter, he’s got to Russell Wilson some things. He’s got to really be perfect with his drop, really find gaps. He’s a good athlete, but he’s got to find gaps like Russell does and make things happen. For him, the curve is a little bit higher or longer. It’s going to take him a while to pick things up.
* On Jacques Perra (true freshman walk-on from Roseville): “He had some opportunities [to play elsewhere] and decided to come here. He’s a really good player. Quick release, accurate, smart kid. He’s really good. He’s done a really good job. He’s smart, and he picks things up really, really fast.”
Camp round up
* University President Eric Kaler stopped by to watch practice, wearing a gold Minnesota hat.
* Several true freshmen got chances to show their stuff during the end-of-practice scrimmage. Defensive tackle Steven Richardson got a chance to go against the first-team offense and appeared to fill his gaps very well. He's a shorter guy but weighs 291 pounds and looks like he'll be a factor. ... Cornerback Craig James delivered a huge hit to wide receiver Melvin Holland, Jr. .. Josh Parks, a walk-on running back from Chisago Lakes, also had some impressive runs.
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover met with the media after Sunday's practice and offered his assessment of quarterback Mitch Leidner. Some interesting stuff in here:
"He’s going to have his ups and downs," Limegrover said. "Things aren’t going to go right, and he’s going to learn from it. The crazy thing is you hear so much about Mitch, you think he’s a fifth-year senior, but he’s just a redshirt sophomore. Every day he’s still learning. But the guys have really taken to him."
And in what areas does Leidner need to improve?
"I think sometimes he’s still trying too hard," Limegrover said. "When you get to the point where he’s our guy, I think he wants to prove that that was the right decision each and every play. And what we’re trying to convince him is, throwing it out of bounds every once in a while, throwing it at someone’s feet, 2nd-and-10, or punting the football isn’t the worst thing in the world. Trying to do too much and putting our defense in a bind because you get a pick at midfield or something, that’s what we can’t do."
Limegrover added: "Coach Kill’s really changed. He’s usually real hard on quarterbacks, and he understands that’s what Mitch’s mindset is. So he’ll get on him whenever he’s pressing too much, but letting him make a few mistakes and learning as he goes there."
CHICAGO – Each Big Ten team brought three players to Big Ten Media Days, so there are 42 players here at the Hilton Chicago, and Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is the only sophomore.
The Gophers also brought senior running back David Cobb and senior safety Cedric Thompson. They could have kept their sophomore starting quarterback home, as Penn State did with Christian Hackenberg and Nebraska did with Tommy Armstrong Jr.
But the Gophers have made no secret that they are looking to Leidner now as a team leader.
“I’m really honored to be going,” Leidner said last week. “I’m really happy I get to represent Minnesota because I’m from here and I love this school more than anything.
“We’re just going to go there – me, Cedric and Cobb – with a lot of class and put a good name out there for ourselves.”
Big Ten Network will be airing each coach’s press conference. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is batting leadoff at 9:30 a.m, and Gophers coach Jerry Kill takes the podium at 11:15 a.m. After their time at the podium, each team has 30 minutes of media availability.
I’ll check back later with updates.
One week before their annual spring game, the Gophers held their most extensive scrimmage of spring practice Saturday.
The defense dominated early, keeping the offense without a point for the first seven drives. But the Gophers started running their hurry-up offense, and converted several big plays.
Here were some notable highlights:
- Cedric Thompson made a terrific interception to halt the first drive.
- Ryan Santoso made field goals of 26 and 46 yards. Andrew Harte hit a 43-yard field goal, and those two combined to make every extra point. Those two are both redshirt freshmen.
- Mitch Leidner hit KJ Maye with a 50-yard touchdown pass.
- Donnell Kirkwood had rushes for 7, 8, 37, 9, 19 and 10 yards.
- Chris Streveler completed a 32-yard pass to Eric Carter
- Rodrick Williams had touchdown runs of 7 and 15 yards.
- Berkley Edwards had 49-yard touchdown run.
- Logan Hutton made a big diving catch on a throw by Conor Rhoda.
- Leidner added a 29-yard touchdown run.
For more perspective, noting which defense was on the field for each drive, etc., here’s a summation from my play-by-play notes:
First-offense (Leidner at QB) vs. first defense
Cobb: 2 rushes, 16 yards.
Kirkwood: 1 rush, 7 yards
Last play: Leidner threw a pass for Plsek that got tipped, and Cedric Thompson intercepted it with an acrobatic play.
Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner went through it. So did Chris Streveler. It’s not easy being a Big Ten quarterback in spring practice, when you could still be getting ready for your high school prom.
Dimonic Roden-McKinzy is the latest Gophers quarterback to graduate from high school a semester early and enroll at the University in January instead of September.
I promised myself I wouldn’t overanalyze Roden-McKinzy this spring after hearing Nelson and Leidner talk about how lost they felt their first spring, and after watching Streveler look pretty lost last spring. All of these guys are bright kids. But there is so much to learn.
The first thing you notice about Roden-McKinzy is his height. The Kansas City native is listed at 6-foot, but I think that’s giving him an inch. He looks about five inches shorter than the 6-4 Leidner. Of course, Johnny Manziel wasn’t quite 6-foot either, and he was a pretty decent college quarterback.
In the passing drills, Roden-McKinzy has shown a nice touch. Leidner’s passes seem to have more zip, but Roden-McKinzy can get it there, too. The arm action is free and easy. I’m slipping back into baseball analysis here, but that was always a good sign with pitchers when they had “easy cheese,” good velocity without maximum effort.
Roden-McKinzy also looks like he’ll be plenty nimble as a dual-threat quarterback. I think passing is his strength, but he’ll be able to pull it down and run, too. He's listed at 214 pounds, so he's plenty sturdy. The Gophers have done a little 11-on-11 stuff, but it'll be tough to get a full read on Roden-McKinzy's abilities until they start scrimmaging after spring break.
“He’s really coming along,” Streveler said. “I think he’s doing better than I did my first spring. And I told him that. I think he’s just picking it up a little faster than I did and throwing well. I think everyone’s happy with how he’s doing.”
Streveler has come a long way since last spring, so if I had to bet, I’d say he’ll be the No. 2 quarterback, with Conor Rhoda at No. 3. Rhoda has impressed me, too, and this should allow the Gophers to redshirt Roden-McKinzy and incoming Roseville recruit Jacques Perra.
“I feel good about the quarterbacks play in general, I really do,” Coach Jerry Kill said after the team’s fourth spring practice. “Every one of them has made a mistake here and there, but not like in the past. They’re making good decisions.”
Note: The Gophers will hold Spring Practice No. 5 on Thursday at 4 p.m. They aren't scheduled to practice again until March 25. All spring practices are open to the public.
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