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.
After strong showings at last month’s NFL Combine, Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen had little to prove Monday at the Gophers’ annual Pro Day.
But Hageman and Vereen were both among the Gophers who turned out for an event that drew officials from 19 NFL teams at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.
The Vikings had at least 15 people there, including new head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman. Zimmer was on the field giving instruction as the players went through their position drills. What did he say to Hageman?
“He just said I was doing well,” Hageman said. “There were some good things they saw, and obviously, ‘Keep my phone on.’”
Indeed, Hageman has a good chance of becoming first Gophers player picked in the first round since Laurence Maroney in 2006.
Of course, Hageman will have to wait two more months to find out, as the NFL Draft has been moved back to May 8-10.
“That is a very long time,” he said. “So I think I’m just going to barricade myself in my room. Just play video games and just work out.”
Vereen stays focused
Vereen and Hageman did position drills and let their numbers from the Combine speak for themselves.
At the Combine, Vereen ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds and did 25 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press – more than any other defensive back.
“I feel like I opened some eyes at the combine and I wanted to show them [during Pro Day] that it wasn’t a fluke or anything like that,” Vereen said.
Vereen is a potential mid- to late-round pick, but don’t get him going about the speculation.
“I haven’t watched ESPN in two months,” he said. “I haven’t watched NFL Network. If somebody starts a conversation about that, I tell them to stop. I’ll worry about that in May.”
He said he plans to watch the draft with his family in California, including his brother Shane Vereen, the New England Patriots running back.
“I can’t just sit and watch the TV,” Brock Vereen said. “We’ll probably go bowling or something.”
Former Gophers wide receiver Derrick Engel had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee on Dec. 3, so all he could do was watch Monday.
But Engel hopes to be running full speed in April and be cleared for free agent workouts in May. How fast could Engel run the 40 if he were healthy?
“I think if I really trained for it, I’d have the potential to go sub 4.4 [seconds],” he said. “That’s kind of the goal I’ve set for myself. … Judging off Brock, I know we’re pretty close in speed and I’ve beat him in conditioning races.”
Other Gophers standouts
* One highlight of Pro Day came in the weight room, where former Gophers defensive tackle Roland Johnson did 40 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. For comparison, Hageman did 32 at the Combine.
“Actually, I expected to get 50,” Johnson said. “The record is 49, and that was my goal.”
* Former Gophers cornerback Jeremy Baltazar ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds and did 27 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
* Former Gophers linebacker James Manuel ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds and posted a 37-inch vertical jump.
Hageman, a potential first-round pick, measured in at 6-6, 310 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.02 seconds and posted a 35.5-inch vertical. In the bench press, he did 32 reps at 225 pounds, third most among defensive linemen. He also broad jumped 114 inches.
According to the Baltimore Sun, one of teams Hageman met with was the Ravens, who pick 17th.
Vereen, a potential mid- to late-round pick, really opened some eyes. He's not just Shane Vereen's brother. Brock measured 6-feet, 199 pounds. His 40 time (4.47 seconds) was the fastest of any safety at the Combine, and he bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times, leading all safeties and cornerbacks. Vereen also posted a 34-inch vertical and broad jumped 117 inches.
The Strib's Master Tesfatsion caught up with Brock in Indianapolis -- good stuff.
The Gophers are holding their Pro Day on Monday, and Hageman and Vereen are among those slated to attend. The NFL Draft is May 8-10.
In a blow to an already thin wide receiving group, the Gophers announced Monday that Devin Crawford-Tufts is sitting out the football season to focus on track and field. Here is the release from the team:
Devin Crawford-Tufts was a member of both the football and men’s track and field team at Minnesota during his sophomore year in 2012-13. For the upcoming 2013-14 academic year, Crawford-Tufts will participate only in track and field and will not be a member of the football team.
“Devin and I have met multiple times over the past couple of months, and he has decided to focus on track and field for the upcoming season,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. “Devin is a fine young man. We wish him well and will be rooting for him.”
Crawford-Tufts made 24 catches for 345 yards in 21 career games for the Gophers. His lone touchdown reception came against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl last season. Crawford-Tufts, who was a Minnesota state champion in the 100 and 200 meters in high school, joined the track and field team in February 2013. He went on to finish fourth at the Big Ten Championships in 60 meters.
Adam Weber's NFL negotiations, stalled for nearly five months during the league's lockout, finally got under way Tuesday morning.
By 9 a.m., they were over, and Weber was a Denver Bronco.
"It's really crazy. I had a few good options, and I had to look at them really quickly and make a decision so I can get to work," Weber said. "Teams have different motivations that you have to figure out -- like some are just looking for an extra arm for camp -- but it wasn't hard. When I looked at the Broncos, it was kind of a no-brainer."
He'll be reunited with former Gopher Eric Decker, who caught 200 of his passes in college, with the Broncos. Weber will report to training camp on Wednesday.
More Gopher signings: Fullback Jon Hoese has agreed to a free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers, while offensive lineman Dominic Alford has joined the Cleveland Browns.
As you watch the Vikings game tonight, keep an eye out for Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who has had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his six-year NFL career. His connection to Gophers football?
He was coached by Jerry Kill.
Jacobs played his senior season in 2004 at Southern Illinois, where Kill had turned the Salukis into a Division I-AA powerhouse, after deciding he wouldn't get enough playing time behind Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn.
That's probably not enough of a recruiting triumph to convince Minnesota skeptics that Kill can recruit BCS-level players; heck, the only reason Jacobs went to Carbondale was that he needed to drop down a level in order to avoid sitting out a season. But Kill got a memorable season out of Jacobs, even though he split up the ball-carrying workload with a couple other players, including former Gopher Terry Jackson.
Jacobs rushed for 992 yards and 19 touchdowns in his only season with Kill, and was drafted in the fourth round by the Giants.
When Kill was hired by the Gophers last week, Jacobs told the university's athletic communications department, "He's the perfect college coach."
Said Jacobs, who had 103 yards on just eight carries against the Redskins last week, "He treated you like a man. There was a level of respect. He treated all his players fairly. He expected the best out of you and wanted you to go out and do everything you could to win. He stood behind you no matter what."
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