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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Posts about Gophers spring football

Gophers cornerback depth shines through in spring game

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 14, 2014 - 2:01 PM

I focused most of my Gophers spring game coverage on the offense, but one thing that stood out to me in watching the tape was the secondary.

Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski had referenced it during a postgame interview. “Our secondary’s pretty darn good,” he said. “So it’s good for our young receivers to go against those DB’s. They’re not going to get a lot of separation all the time.”

The coaches kept most members of the first-team defense out of the scrimmage, but the healthy members of that unit lined up for the pass-shell drill during warm-ups.

- Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore an ACL last season in the second game, was lined up at starting cornerback, opposite Eric Murray. Boddy-Calhoun obviously has his speed and agility back, even if the coaches kept him from contact drills this spring. The junior showed it with an interception during that pass-shell drill (not sure who threw it), but that was as telling as anything that happened Saturday. Keep in mind: the coaches felt Boddy-Calhoun was playing the best of all their cornerbacks before he got injured.

- Jalen Myric got a ton of reps this spring, opposite Murray, with Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Wells (shoulder surgery) both coming back from their respective injuries. Myric picked off Mitch Leidner during the scrimmage with a tremendous play. Drew Wolitarsky appeared to have a couple steps on Myric, but the sophomore DB closed quickly. He pushed off on Wolitarsky, subtly enough to get away with it, then changed his direction just enough to reach up and get the ball.

- Marcus Jones is more than just a kick returner. He had a terrific day at cornerback. Leidner slightly underthrew a pass to Wolitarsky in the end zone, and Jones broke it up. Jones finished with 5 1/2 tackles, too. He’s listed at 5-8, 166 pounds, but he is absolutely fearless out there.

Bottom line: The Gophers should be loaded at cornerback this fall, which will only help them in nickel and dime packages. They’ll face a lot of spread offenses, and that secondary depth is key. I expect Murray and Boddy-Calhoun to be the two starters, with Wells as the primary nickel back, if he is indeed healthy. Myric, Jones and Steven Montgomery will all fill in.

Offense sputters for Gophers in annual Spring Game

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 12, 2014 - 5:07 PM

The first-team defense didn't play, yet the Gophers offense still managed just one touchdown and four field goals in 13 drives on Saturday during the annual Spring Game at TCF Bank Stadium.

Instead of dividing into two teams, the Gophers ran their offense against the defense in a scrimmage that lasted about 70 minutes before an announced crowd of 4,752. The "final score" went down as 19-0.

The highlight came when Berkley Edwards took a hand-off toward the sideline and raced 33 yards for a touchdown. That came against the third-team defense.

Mitch Leidner completed seven of 15 passes for 74 yards with one interception. Rodrick Williams led all rushers with nine carries for 52 yards. Edwards finished with 11 carries for 46 yards, and David Cobb had seven carries for 29 yards.

Note: Gophers defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli had a boot on his left foot and didn't play. Kill said Botticelli had a broken bone in his foot but should be healed up in five weeks.

Gophers Spring Game Preview: What to watch; depth charts, etc.

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 12, 2014 - 12:41 PM

Greetings from TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers are getting ready for their annual Spring Game.

The weather has shaped up pretty well, with temperatures expected to be about 60 degrees, with mostly cloudy skies for today's start at about 2:30 p.m.

The game -- which will actually be a scrimmage between the offense and defense -- will be aired live on 100.3-FM, and streamed live on BTN2GO.com. Big Ten Network will show the game tape delayed on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

I'm most curious how Mitch Leidner and the first-team offense look, of course. But the Spring Game is really an opportunity to see how some of the lesser-experienced players look under the spotlight.

It's a big day for some of the redshirt freshmen, such as QB Chris Streveler, QB Conor Rhoda, TE Nate Wozniak, WR Eric Carter, LB Rayfield Dixon and S Daletavious McGhee. And, of course, RB Berkley Edwards, whom I wrote about for today's paper.

The Gophers didn't release a depth chart for this game, but I put one together, based on what I've seen in spring practice:

OFFENSE

WR 82 Drew Wolitarsky (So.)/17 Logan Hutton (Sr.)

WR 14 Isaac Fruechte/4 Donovahn Jones (So.)

WR 1 KJ Maye (Jr.)/11 Eric Carter (Fr.)

LT 78 Ben Lauer (So.)/74 Marek Lenkiewicz (Sr.)

LG 52 Zac Epping (Sr.)/73 Joe Bjorklund (Jr.)

C 53 Tommy Olson (Sr.)/67 Brian Bobek (Jr.)

RG 77 Foster Bush (Jr.) /68 Isaac Hayes (So.)

RT 65 Josh Campion (Jr.)/79 Jonah Pirsig (So.)

TE 83 Drew Goodger (Sr.)/85 Lincoln Plsek (Jr.)

TE 81 Duke Anyanwu (So.)/39 Nate Wozniak (Fr.)

QB 7 Mitch Leidner (So.)/5 Chris Streveler (Fr.)

RB 27 David Cobb (Sr.)/32 Berkley Edwards (Fr.)

FB 44 Riley O’Hara (Jr.)/41 Miles Thomas (Jr.)

DEFENSE

DE 55 Theiren Cockran (Jr.)/93 Ben Perry (Sr.)

DT 46 Cameron Botticelli (Sr.)/90 Demaris Peppers (Fr.)

DT 97 Scott Ekpe (Jr.)/94 Harold Legania (Sr.)

DE 98 Michael Amaefula (Sr.)/69 Robert Ndondo-Lay (Jr.)

LB 26 De’Vondre Campbell (Jr.)/59 De’Niro Laster (Fr.)

LB 5 Damien Wilson (Sr.)/56 Nick Rallis (So.)

LB 50 Jack Lynn (So.)/38 Ray Dixon (Fr.)

CB 31 Eric Murray (Jr.)/16 Steven Montgomery (Jr.)

CB 28 Jalen Myric (So.)/15 Marcus Jones (Sr.)

S 2 Cedric Thompson (Sr.)/8 Daletavious McGhee (Fr.)

S 11 Antonio Johnson (Jr.)/7 Damarius Travis (Jr.)

SPECIALISTS

K 28 Ryan Santoso (Fr.)/33 Andrew Harte (Fr.)

KR 1 KJ Maye (Jr.)/11 Antonio Johnson (Jr.)

P 37 Peter Mortell (Jr.)/94 Christian Eldred (Sr.)

PR 15 Marcus Jones (Sr.)

NOT PLAYING DUE TO INJURY

88 Maxx Williams

91 Alex Keith

95 Hank Ekpe

12 Cody Poock

13 Derrick Wells

63 Jon Christenson

64 Caleb Bak

52 Yoshoub Timms

29 Briean Boddy-Calhoun

Gophers update: Jon Christenson, Tommy Olson, Cody Poock and Kill's picks to click

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 11, 2014 - 3:07 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill delivered a few news items today, during the taping of his radio show with Mike Grimm and Justin Gaard. The show will air tonight on 100.3-FM at 7 p.m., on the eve of the annual Spring Game:

- Center Jon Christenson, who broke his leg last Nov. 2, is expected to be ready to go “full-tilt” by June. Kill called Christenson "a critical piece" of the team and said the job he's done with his rehab is unbelievable.

- Tommy Olson has taken over as the starter at center and taken his game to a new level. “So that gives us flexibility to move Jon [Christenson] to guard,” Kill said. Christenson started six games at left guard in 2012.

- LB Cody Poock had surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday. The medical staff “said he’s got a chance to get ready for the Big Ten season, so we’ll just have to see,” Kill said.

- Asked to name a player fans might not know about now who has a chance to emerge this season, Kill listed redshirt freshman LB Rayfield Dixon, incoming freshman DL Steven Richardson, and T Jonah Pirsig.

Note: For the Spring Game (Saturday at 2:30 p.m., TCF Bank Stadium), the Gophers plan to pit the offense vs. the defense in a scrimmage format. It’ll be full-contact, except for the quarterbacks, of course. The team plans to keep stats but won’t be keeping score, with defensive points or anything like that. If it's anything like last Saturday's scrimmage, the starters will see a lot of playing time, and it's going to be a key test for players fighting for jobs.

Check back to StarTribune.com for full coverage, and follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib.

Two redshirt freshmen kickers looking to fill the void for the Gophers

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 8, 2014 - 1:31 PM

The Gophers need to replace departing senior Chris Hawthorne at place-kicker this fall, and the two leading candidates are redshirt freshmen – Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte. Both kickers were perfect in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Ryan Santoso

Ryan Santoso

Santoso nailed both of his field goal attempts – from 26 and 46 yards – along with an extra point. Harte hit a 43-yard field goal and was 4-for-4 on his extra point attempts.

The defense looked very good early in the scrimmage, and the offense had some explosive plays later in the scrimmage, but Coach Jerry Kill referenced the kicking game, saying, “That’s probably the thing I was most excited about.”

Santoso was an Under Armour All-American for Pace High School in Florida and came to the Gophers with a scholarship. He also punted in high school, but with Peter Mortell excelling last year as a sophomore punter, Santoso has been able to focus on place-kicking.

Harte is a walk-on from Montini Catholic in Downers Grove, Ill.Andrew Harte He has a pretty standard build for a kicker – 6-foot, 180 pounds – but Santoso is 6-5, 255 pounds. Santoso has actually trimmed down considerably from when he first arrived on campus last summer.

“He’s a totally different looking guy,” Kill said earlier this spring. “He’s kind of like the big kid playing basketball, [Mo] Walker. It’s unbelievable what his body looks like. You talk about somebody who’s made a commitment. We’ll see how it turns out.”

 

 

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