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 continued to insist Wednesday that Mitch Leidner will be back from his knee injury for Saturday's game at TCU.
"Mitch is going to play," Coach Jerry Kill said after watching Leidner practice for the second straight day. "He's a tough kid. ... He practiced, and he practiced hard [Wednesday]. He ran around good."
Kill added: "I’m pleasantly surprised after the shot he took [against Middle Tennessee State]."
The Gophers kept Leidner from meeting with the media this week, as they do with other players coming back from injury. It was interesting, though, that they kept reporters waiting in the hallway outside their locker room Wednesday, instead of conducting interviews on the practice field, as usual.
"We didn’t limit anything [in practice with Leidner]," Kill said. "We were smart and didn't get a bunch of bodies around him or anything of that nature. He went every rep we needed to except for the live stuff, when we went against the defense, but we hold him out of that sometimes anyway."
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler also sounded convinced.
"I’m pretty confident he’s going to be playing," Streveler said. "He’s been doing well in practice, but you never know, so I’m going to be ready to go no matter what happens."
Mitch Leidner will practice with the Gophers on Tuesday, testing his left knee injury, coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday. Kill said the Gophers need to have both Leidner and backup quarterback Chris Streveler ready to face TCU on Saturday.
"Mitch is going to go, no doubt in my mind," Gophers tight end Maxx Williams said. "Mitch is one of the toughest guys I know by far. ... I couldn’t even tell if anything was wrong with him. I don’t even really know what’s going on, all I know is he’s in there practicing with us."
Leidner got hit in the knee while releasing a pass in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 35-24 win over Middle Tennessee State. Kill didn't give specifics, but people familiar with the injury said the MRI showed a sprained medial collateral ligament, which runs along the outside of the knee. Leidner had a brace placed on the knee and was able to run forward Saturday but had trouble replicating his drop-back motion.
"We won't know until we get him out there," Kill said. "I can just tell you he's running and moving around. He actually moved around on Sunday. So he's a tough cat."
Kill said he would limit Leidner's reps, making sure Streveler and No. 3 QB Jacques Perra get chances.
"I don't want to wear [Leidner] out and be smart," Kill said. "But we'll see how it goes. I can't guarantee anything, but I can guarantee you that he's going to practice today and that will help us determine some things. But, you know, he's tough. He's been on the phone with Jordan Lynch. Jordan is pretty tough too."
Rallis out for the season
Gophers linebacker Nick Rallis is out for the season with a knee injury, Kill said. Rallis, the team's second-string middle linebacker behind Damien Wilson, injured the knee on punt coverage Saturday.
"We pulled a redshirt off Everett [Williams], and he's got to step up," Kill said. "That's really all you do. Certainly [Rallis] can play all three [linebacker] spots. That's what made him special. I feel bad for him. He's worked so hard and so forth."
The Gophers have now lost three players to season-ending knee injuries -- tight end Duke Anyanwu, defensive tackle Scott Ekpe and Rallis.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, leaving his status for this week's game at TCU uncertain, sources familiar with the injury confirmed Sunday.
Leidner got hit as he released a pass in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 35-24 victory over Middle Tennessee State. His MRI showed no damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, meaning this doesn't appear to be a season-ending injury.
But depending upon the severity, an MCL sprain could sideline him for multiple weeks.
"Anytime you have a knee [injury], you’re concerned," coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. "We haven’t had a lot of good luck [with recent knee injuries]. I don’t know."
Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler finished Saturday's game at quarterback for the Gophers and would be in line to start at TCU, if Leidner can't go. Kill said true freshman walk-on Jacques Perra has climbed to No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart, behind Leidner and Streveler.
I'll have more on the Gophers quarterback situation in tonight's first editions.
Here’s some quick notes from Jerry Kill’s weekly radio show with Mike Grimm and Mark Rosen today on 100.3-FM:
* Defensive end Alex Keith will miss Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State, but Kill said the team hopes to have Keith back for the Sept. 13 game against TCU. Kill didn’t specify what the injury is, but Keith appeared to hurt his left knee after recovering two fumbles against Eastern Illinois. Kill added that the team will be careful with Keith, since the most important thing is having players healthy for the Big Ten slate.
* Defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms will be available to play Saturday, if needed. Timms appeared to injure an ankle in the season opener.
* Kill reiterated that wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, offensive tackle Ben Lauer and defensive end Michael Amaefula all are ready to return Saturday.
* Kill said linebacker Cody Poock, who is recovering from a torn ACL, has already taken part in contact drills in practice. Kill was quick to say that doesn't mean Poock is close to returning soon. But with Scott Ekpe facing the same surgery, Kill was noting how quickly players can come back from the injury.
* Kill said playing Middle Tennessee State is very similar to playing Syracuse in last year’s Texas Bowl. Syracuse was 6-6, and the Gophers were favored, but the Orange wound up winning 21-17. “We need to understand how good they are,” Kill said. “And I think our football team does. Our schedule, you need to go to work every day, and our kids understand that.”
* Asked about Eastern Illinois’ onside kick when trailing 42-14 with 28 seconds remaining last week, Kill said, “I think there’s a way to handle that and not, and I wasn’t very happy. You could tell after the game, I wasn’t very happy.” Kill noted how dangerous onside kicks can be injury-wise, and that game had been decided. Eastern Illinois scored another touchdown on the game’s final play to make it 42-20.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said running back Jeff Jones was excited for his first day of class today at the university and that the team hopes Jones is eligible to begin practicing for spring semester.
Kill didn't give specifics, but this likely means that Jones has been granted partial approval of an initial eligibility waiver by the NCAA. Jones can't take part in team activities, including practices, this fall, but would be eligible for spring semester if he posts a 2.5 GPA this fall.
Jones was right on the bubble to qualify for Division I coming out of Minneapolis Washburn high school. After applying for the initial eligibility waiver, Jones was granted his athletic scholarship, and now he has a chance to prove himself in the classroom.
"I think he's happy and excited," Kill said. "First day of school. You know, I saw him this morning. Hopefully he'll be practicing in the spring. There's certain things that I won't mention, how the NCAA works and all that. But cautiously optimistic to see how that works out."
Jones could be a big part of the team next fall, with running backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood graduating.
Ekpe likely out for season
Kill said it looks pretty certain that defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is out for the season with a knee injury. Ekpe is a junior and would be able to get a medical redshirt year, giving him two more years of eligibility.
"That's a major blow," Kill said.
Ekpe made his first career start in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, but injured the knee during the first quarter.
Ekpe played in all 13 games the past two seasons, recording 33 tackles, including five tackles for a loss. To fill his place, the Gophers likely will tab true freshman Steven Richardson to start next to senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli.
Kill also said the Gophers have moved Harold Legania back to defensive tackle. He had moved to the offensive line late in training camp.
Other injury notes
Kill said wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be ready to play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Wolitarsky missed last week's game with an injury near his shoulder.
Kill didn't give specifics on the injuries and said he'd need to see how the week goes along for defensive end Alex Keith and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms.
"They're not lost for the season, and we'll see how this week progresses with them," Kill said.
Keith made his first career start against Eastern Illinois and delivered a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries before injuring his left leg. Keith was filling in for starting defensive end Michael Amaefula, who missed the opener with a knee injury but is expected to return for Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee.
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