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 landed a coveted wide receiver recruit Thursday night, when Almonzo Brown, from Suwanee, Ga., committed to them, despite receiving offers from Florida, Iowa, Georgia Tech and Kansas State.
The 6-2, 214-pound Brown is a consensus three-star recruit, and the 11th commitment the Gophers have received for their 2015 class.
Brown announced the news on Twitter:
I am proud to announce I will be committing to... pic.twitter.com/VFMfYMPCN7— Almonzo Brown (@the_OCHO_brown) August 22, 2014
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover acknowledged Thursday that the team will be careful with left tackle Ben Lauer recovering from a high ankle sprain.
"He’s made some progress, done some things, but at the same time, you rush that back, you might be right back at square one," Limegrover said.
It sounds like Jonah Pirsig will get his first career start at right tackle, with Josh Campion moving over to left tackle, filling Lauer's spot. This will be a chance for Pirsig to show his stuff. When Lauer gets healthy, Campion could move to right guard, allowing the Gophers to keep Pirsig with the first unit.
"I’m going to do my best to keep that spot once Ben gets back," Pirsig said. "And it’s all about competition from there on out."
Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky was held from practice again Thursday. The team hasn't given details about the injury, but the media hasn't really had a chance to ask, either. Long story, but Coach Jerry Kill is usually the one to give specifics. His days to talk to the media this week were Tuesday and Saturday. I didn't hear Wolitarsky was injured until late Tuesday night.
Again, the injury doesn't sound serious. Limegrover explained that the team's multiple tight end sets have made it where wide receiver injuries aren't as costly. The team can get through a game relying on three of four wide receivers, if they have to.
"But obviously we want to get Drew back as quickly as possible," Limegrover said. "He’s worked well with Mitch all the way through. So we want to get him back, but at the same time ... you build depth so one injury doesn't tip you over the edge."
The Gophers will release their first official injury report Tuesday, but for now, team officials insist they feel good about the health going into their Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois. A few items of note:
* Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky and defensive end Michael Amaefula have both been hobbled of late, but coaches say they still think both could be ready for the opener.
* Tight end Duke Anyanwu tore his ACL the first weekend of practice, and that was a tough blow because Anyanwu would have been one of the first replacements for Maxx Williams.
* Offensive lineman Jared Weyler also tore an ACL during camp, but he's a true freshman who likely would have redshirted anyway.
* The Gophers continue to take it slow with offensive lineman Jon Christenson, who is making his way back from last November's broken leg. They hope left tackle Ben Lauer (high ankle sprain) is ready to practice at full-speed Sunday.
From what I've gathered, that's about all there is to report on the injury front.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill gave a couple quick injury updates after Tuesday's practice.
* Starting left tackle Ben Lauer has a high ankle sprain and won't be full-go until at least Sunday. It sounds like the 6-7, 315-pound Lauer is questionable for the Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois.
"He’s slowly getting back," Kill said. "He did individual stuff today, but those things take a while. And certainly, where we’re at now, we’re not going to take any chances. He’s progressed a long way in three or four days. I anticipate him hopefully practicing Sunday, but we’ll see."
* If Lauer can't play, the Gophers likely would start Jonah Pirsig at right tackle, with Josh Campion sliding over to left tackle. Pirsig recently missed three or four days with a groin injury, but he was full-go at practice Tuesday.
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."
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