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.
First, a clarification: I went back and listened to Jerry Kill's interview with Sid Hartman and Dave Mona from Sunday on 830-AM, and I had missed an answer where Kill was more definitive about the redshirt plans.
Kill said Andrew Stelter, a true freshman defensive lineman from Owatonna, will definitely play this year, and the same goes for Brandon Lingen, a true freshman from Wayzata.
Among the other true freshmen Kill expects to play are defensive linemen Steven Richardson and Gaelin Elmore, linebacker Jonathan Celestin and cornerback Craig James. I wrote about Richardson and Elmore last week, as those could be impact moves for the defense.
Kill said he has five or six more true freshmen in the mix for playing time. I know that list includes TE/WR Jerry Gibson, WR Melvin Holland Jr., and WR Isaiah Gentry. Some of these decisions will get made this week, and some could linger into the season, Kill said.
Linebacker depth a question mark
The Gophers expect big things from their first-team linebackers -- De'Vondre Campbell (6-5, 240 pounds), Damien Wilson (6-2, 240) and Jack Lynn (6-3, 240) -- but there is some concern about their linebacker depth.
Junior college transfer Cody Poock appeared headed for a starting role before he tore an ACL during spring practice. Poock has pushed hard to return in time for the Big Ten opener (Sept. 27 at Michigan), but I'll be surprised if he doesn't redshirt.
The second unit has been De'Niro Laster (6-4, 230), Nick Rallis (5-11, 228) and Ray Dixon (6-3, 209). Rallis can play all three LB spots, much like Lynn. Laster and Dixon, both redshirt freshmen, made good strides during spring practice, but Dixon has been banged up during camp.
Celestin (6-1, 209, from Jonesboro, Ga.) will play, and the Gophers like Everett Williams (6-1, 230, Mansfield, Texas) a lot, too.
"Those are guys we’re going to push to not be redshirted because they’re both athletic enough, and they both work really hard," Linebackers coach Mike Sherels said Friday. "Those two guys have done a great job of coming in and inserting themselves and learning the process. The freshman factor hasn’t caught up with them yet."
Gophers coach Jerry Kill gave Sid Hartman and Dave Mona several new insights this morning on WCCO AM-830. Notably:
* Senior defensive tackle Harold Legania has moved to the offensive line, a switch to give him a better chance at playing time this year.
* Offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig has been out for four or five days with a groin injury. Nothing serious, but another bump in the road for the redshirt sophomore.
* Starting left tackle Ben Lauer has a sprained ankle but should be back Tuesday.
* Junior lineman Josh Campion has played right tackle, left tackle and right guard during camp because of those injuries.
* Kill reiterated that Gaelin Elmore will play this year at defensive end.
* Kill said true freshman Jerry Gibson has been playing H-back (tight end), as well as inside wide receiver.
* Jonathan Celestin, a true freshman linebacker from Jonesboro, Ga., had a “real nice scrimmage” and will play this year.
* Kill also praised true freshman tight end Brandon Lingen, from Wayzata, saying he’ll play, too. Kill said true freshman DE Andrew Stelter has had an “outstanding camp,” though it wasn’t clear if that means Stelter will play this year.
Note: I accepted the #icebucketchallenge from Chip Scoggins, and issued my own to Cedric Thompson, Mitch Leidner and David Cobb. Check out the clip -- our daughter steals the show. Fun way to support a great cause. Help #strikeoutALS.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill has made no secret that he wants to break ground on a new practice facility as soon as possible. Today, Big Ten Network visited campus, and BTN.com writer Tom Dienhart issued this tweet:
I don’t know the context of Kill’s conversation with Dienhart, but I do know that the university has yet to set a formal timeline for building any new practice facilities. They remain in the "silent fundraising phase" of their $190 million facilities plan.
“We are going to break ground as soon as we possibly can; that hasn’t changed,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Chris Werle said today.
At Big Ten Media Days last month, Kill was outspoken about his facility goals.
“I tell recruits, we’ve got a good idea where it’s going to be,” Kill told reporters. “We’ve got spring ball starting. In April, we finalize it, and start getting in the ground as soon as we can.
“April would be [a good time] to me. They can even do it in December the way they work around here in the weather. … That’s what Coach wants, and that’s what we need, and anything different than that, I’m not going to be happy.”
The Gophers had their last big scrimmage of preseason camp today at TCF Bank Stadium. It was closed to the media, but we gleaned a few highlights afterward, talking to coaches and players.
Center Tommy Olson said Mitch Leidner threw two touchdown passes -- one to Maxx Williams and one to Drew Goodger.
"Mitch really had a good day throwing the ball," Olson said. "I was really happy with our passing game, and the running game – we do pretty well most of the time with our running game. It seems like we threw the ball a little bit more today, and we really had a good day throwing. I was really happy for Mitch."
Olson said Goodger's touchdown catch was "unbelievable."
"We always joke that he’s getting old, but he’s still got it, so that’s pretty cool," Olson said. "... He out-jumped one of the D-backs. Drew had those ankle injuries a couple years ago, and it was just good to see him get up again."
Running backs coach Pat Poore said Donnell Kirkwood had a couple good runs in the red zone. I'm sure the defense made some big plays, too, but it was the offense's turn to talk to the media.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill kept Tuesday morning's practice short but sounded pleased coming off the field.
"There were some good things that happened out there today," he said. "Mitch [Leidner] continues to grow, and KJ Maye is just playing his tail end off right now. This is the first time I’ve seen him full-speed since he’s gotten here, and he’s really playing well.
"And of course, Maxx [Williams] is Maxx. And our offensive line is really playing well. We’ve got to get a couple guys healthy, which they will, but right now it's kind of messes things up a little bit. Defensive line, linebackers and secondary -- we’re pretty fast and athletic."
The Gophers had two practices Monday, and Kill said a couple plays stood out.
"Fifty-five seconds to go on the clock, Maxx Williams just made a tremendous catch on the goal line," Kill said. "Donovahn Jones made a catch over the top that we haven’t done. We’ve had some tight ends make some big catches. And Derrick Wells picked one off that most people don’t pick off."
On David Cobb, Kill said, "He’s playing unbelievable right now, special teams, the whole ball of wax. That just shows you, when you get some confidence, work hard, good things happen to you. And I think Berkley [Edwards] sees that, and that’s a good example of what people want to do. ... David’s body’s changed. Even this year, he’s cut up really well. So I think he’s going to have a really good year."
Brandon Jacobs, who starred for Kill at Southern Illinois before moving on to the New York Giants, was a special guest at Tuesday's practice. Kill was talking about building programs and thought back to when the 6-4, 250-pound Jacobs transferred to Southern Illinois from Auburn.
"That big fella that just walked by here, that’ll solve a lot of problems for you," Kill said.
Note: How tough is this year's schedule for the Gophers? I'll have an in-depth look in tonight's first editions.
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