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.
The Gophers announced this morning that Saturday's practice has been moved to TCF Bank Stadium, at 9:30 a.m., and is open to the public. This will be their eighth session of the spring and the first outdoors.
The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is holding its spring clinic this weekend, with about 1,400 coaches in downtown Minneapolis. Jerry Kill is among the featured speakers, and hundreds of coaches usually take in a Gophers practice while they're in town.
This should be a fun practice to watch. The Gophers usually "go live" and scrimmage on spring Saturdays.
More thoughts from Limegrover
On Thursday, Matt Limegrover gave some insight into how the battles are shaping up along the offensive line. I posted his thoughts on Josh Campion moving to guard in this report, but I wanted to update the rest of the line battles.
Remember, Jon Christenson had a rod removed from his leg and is rehabbing right now, but the Gophers expect him to be fully healthy this summer. Christenson is a likely starter at either center or left guard.
The first-team O-line this week has been Ben Lauer (left tackle), Joe Bjorklund (left guard), Brian Bobek (center), Campion (right guard) and Jonah Pirsig (right tackle).
"Ben Lauer’s going to be just fine," Limegrover said. "He’s had a real good spring ball so far at left tackle. We’ve got to find a backup [at left tackle], we’re a little bit shy right there. Our backup may not be on campus yet in all honesty.
"We’ve got to have somebody step up. If you’re not good at left tackle, you’re not going to be good as an offense. And that's what’s happening sometimes, when [second-string QB] Chris Streveler’s in there, he’s having some trouble over there."
Connor Mayes is another candidate to start at either left guard or center, but he's had a rough week snapping the ball as the second-string center.
"We’ve gotta get Connor squared away," Limegrover said. "It’s a little different snapping [without the defense lined up], but you put someone breathing down your neck, and it’s a little different scenario. So he’s got to keep working at that every day. He’s doing a nice job, but I’ll tell you who’s been real consistent throughout the spring is Brian Bobek. So I’ve been real happy with that."
A gem of a book
Finally, I wanted to throw in a plug for Kristian Pope's new book, "Godballers." Kris is a good friend of mine from our time working together at the Minnesota Daily, and he poured his heart and soul into this. It's the story of a remarkable year on the college basketball beat -- and so much more. From the Amazon link:
Godballers is the journey of a rookie sports reporter looking to make a name for himself when he quickly discovers that life at his new assignment travels in a slower gear. There he meets a coach haunted by his past and driven by his future. In this true tale of faith, the coach must overcome an unthinkable tragedy and find a cure for his son's life-threatening illness to fulfill the young man's dream of playing college basketball. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Godballers follows every thrilling moment of the season and teaches indelible lessons in life, family and the true meaning of faith.
When the Gophers open spring practice March 3, many eyes will be drawn to the quartet of wide receivers who redshirted last fall -- Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant, Melvin Holland and Jerry Gibson.
The Gophers have struggled at receiver, and they need to replace Isaac Fruechte and Donovahn Jones. Drew Wolitarsky and KJ Maye are back, but after that, there's no wide receiver on the roster who caught more than one pass last year.
Coach Jerry Kill has raved about his redshirt freshmen quartet. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was more measured when I spoke to him this week.
“I know Coach [Kill] is pretty high on them, and I can see why,” Limegrover said. “Are they going to be complete receivers on April 11? Probably not. Are they going to be complete receivers on Sept. 1? Probably not. You’ve got to get through the growing pains with them, let them work against a darn good secondary for the next six months.”
That's a great point about the secondary. These receivers will need to be good if they're going to catch passes against the likes of Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Jalen Myrick and Craig James. The Gophers would put those cornerbacks up against anybody.
"[The redshirt freshmen receivers] work really hard," Limegrover said. "They put in extra time with the quarterbacks, and hopefully that’s going to pay off. We’ll see exactly how far they’ve come obviously in the spring, but they’re doing the right things.
"All of them have the potential to be very complete receivers. ... One of them probably will [emerge] a little quicker than the others. I can’t sit here and say right now which one that will be. One will impress a little bit sooner, one may take a little longer. But the one that takes longer, maybe by the end of his career, he'll be the one that continues to steadily increase and becomes the best one of the group.
"It’s just hard to say who that is at this point. I just like watching them run around, that’s for sure."
I caught up with Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover on Tuesday to get his thoughts looking ahead to spring practice, which starts March 3. Limegrover is always a good quote, so I'll be sprinkling his comments into my coverage throughout camp. For now, here are a few of the things I gleaned from the conversation:
* Limegrover plans to give Josh Campion a good look at guard this spring, knowing he could always move back to tackle. This would allow a potential starting O-line that includes the 6-7 Ben Lauer at left tackle and 6-9 Jonah Pirsig at right tackle, with the 6-5 Campion at one of the guard spots.
* But Limegrover isn't promising anything to Lauer or Pirsig. He challenged Lauer, specifically, feeling that he wasn't quite as driven as he need to be coming into last season after earning Freshman All-American honors in 2013. He knows Lauer dealt with a high ankle sprain and mono last fall but wants him to bring his A-game this spring. The same goes for Pirsig, even though he made big strides last season.
* With Tommy Olson graduated and Jon Christenson not expected to practice this spring, the center duties will primarily go to Brian Bobek and Connor Mayes. The Gophers expect Christenson to play a big role this fall, and they just want to him to focus on building strength after having a rod removed from his leg last week. Mayes and Christenson are candidates to start at center, as well as guard. Matt Leidner, Mitch's younger brother, provides depth on the center depth chart, and the Gophers might give some snaps to early enrollee Tyler Moore.
* Jerry Gibson will come to camp as a wide receiver. Someday, he might move to H-back, in the mold of Maxx Williams, but he hasn't put on enough weight for that yet. For now, Gibson is part of a talented quartet of wide receivers who redshirted last year, along with Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland.
* The two leading candidates to replace Williams at H-back are Duke Anyanwu (who tore an ACL in early August) and Nick Hart.
* The three leading candidates to replace Drew Goodger at the Y-tight end spot (more of a blocking position) are Lincoln Plsek, Brandon Lingen and Nate Wozniak. Lingen saw time behind Williams last year as a true freshman, but his future is at the Y-spot.
* As for replacing David Cobb, Limegrover said that will probably be a multi-person job, though he did say, "I think Rodrick [Williams] is working hard to prove that he can be a 22-25 carry, 55-65 play guy." Limegrover is also excited to see what Berkley Edwards, Rodney Smith and Jeff Jones can do this spring.
* Limegrover also can't wait to see how Mitch Leidner builds off the experience he gained as a full-time starting QB last fall. "I thought Mitch really settled down as the season went on, and I think there’s a comfort level," Limegrover said. "There’s just an air about him that’s completely different than it was last Feb. 17, just because it’s like, 'I've been through this all for a year. I’m going to be the starter. I’m going to be the guy.' There’s just a calmness to him now that I really like."
Gophers career passing leader Adam Weber is rejoining the team -- this time as a graduate assistant coach.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill hired Weber to replace outgoing graduate assistant Ryan Maiuri, who worked closely with quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, helping develop Mitch Leidner and Co.
“I really am excited to join such a great staff under Coach [Jerry] Kill,” Weber said. “I’m just looking to be a sponge. It just seems like a great fit.”
Weber started for the Gophers from 2007 to 2010, setting school records for passing attempts (1,594), completions (909), passing yards (10,917) and touchdown passes (72).
Weber, 27, had stints with the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he got cut last year after signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I traveled for three months overseas and that was a great way for me to digest it all, to kind of close that chapter and then really prepare myself for that next step,” Weber said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to open up that door and get into coaching.”
Weber will be working toward a masters’ degree while he is coaching the Gophers. In his four years as Minnesota’s quarterback, the team had four different offensive coordinators under then-coach Tim Brewster.
“I had so many different coaches and so many different coaching styles,” Weber said. “I can take a little bit away from each and then develop into my own coach.”
Weber, a Mounds View grad, can relate to Leidner as a Minnesota-born quarterbacks handling the pressures of quarterbacking the Gophers. They’ve already forged a bond.
“As soon as Mitch took the reigns, I reached out to him to let him know, if he ever has any questions, I’m always here,” Weber said. “Now I’m excited that I can be more involved and be there on a day-to-day basis, and try to help all the quarterbacks – and the entire team.
“I’m very entry level, being a G.A. I’ll try to learn as much as I can from these guys and also be a resource when I can be.”
Jerry Kill continues to have full confidence that the University of Minnesota will be ready to break ground on its new $150 athletic facilities project in August.
“I expect [the shovel] to be in the ground during two-a-day camp,” Kill said Friday. “That’s what I’ve said all along, and I expect that to happen. … I’ve told the recruits, and so it needs to get done.”
University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said last week that as with any university project, at least 80 percent of the money ($120 million) must be raised before construction can begin. Athletics Director Norwood Teague said $70 million has been raised thus far.
A Board of Regents document released last week states that a complete financing plan must be ready for approval at the June 11-12 Regents meeting in order to begin construction by October.
“I think when the board finalizes it in June, they should be able to get going immediately,” Kill said. “I don’t know the 80 percent rule, 70 percent rule, 90 percent rule -- that’s their job to figure all that out. They know we need to get it started in August.”
This week, the Board of Regents approved using $15 million of the money already raised for the project’s schematic design.
“That’s tremendous,” Kill said. “Right there, that tells you. Once you do that, things move pretty fast.”
* Offensive lineman Jon Christenson had a rod inserted into his left leg when he broke his tibia and fibula in a gruesome injury in November 2013. Christenson returned last season and started the Citrus Bowl at right guard. Christenson recently had the rod removed from the leg. The Gophers plan to withhold him from spring practice, but Kill said Christenson “will be a starter” again this fall.
* Cody Poock, who tore the ACL in his right knee last March, will be at full speed for spring practice and is a candidate to replace departing senior Damien Wilson as the starting middle linebacker.
* Duke Anyanwu, who tore the ACL in his right knee early in August, also has been cleared for spring practice, Kill said. Anyanwu is one of several candidates the Gophers are counting on to help replace NFL-bound tight end Maxx Williams.
* Scott Ekpe, who tore an ACL in last year’s season opener, is also making good progress but likely will be limited during spring ball. “We know what he can do,” Kill said. “We’ll make sure he’s healed up. He may get a few reps, but we’re going to be careful there.” The Gophers need to replace Cameron Botticelli, but they expect to have Ekpe and Steven Richardson back as their starting defensive tackles.
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