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.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said Tuesday that he doesn't expect Coach Jerry Kill to be at the Northwestern game Saturday, a possibility Claeys had left open when the team announced Kill was taking a leave of absence to treat his epilepsy.
Claeys, who is serving as acting coach, filled in for Kill at Tuesday's press conference and said Mitch Leidner would start at quarterback Saturday. Claeys added that the team would like to give Philip Nelson some snaps early in the game, too.
The bye week allowed several players to heal.
Wide receiver Derrick Engel (concussion symptoms), Safety Cedric Thompson (concussion symptoms), cornerback Martez Shabazz (separated shoulder) and Derrick Wells (shoulder stinger) have all returned to practice.
Safety Brock Vereen has practiced at cornerback, just in case Wells and Shabazz aren't ready to go.
Third-string quarterback Chris Streveler remains out with a hand injury, so Conor Rhoda will be available in case something should happen to both Leidner and Nelson.
ANN ARBOR, MICH. -- Mitch Leidner started at quarterback for the Gophers on Saturday one week after sitting when Philip Nelson returned to the starting role.
Nelson missed the San Jose State game on Sept. 21 with a hamstring injury, and Leidner rushed for four touchdowns and 151 yards in the victory.
But with Nelson back to full health, he started the next week against Iowa.
If Nelson tweaked his hamstring again, depth could be an issue for the Gophers at quarterback. Third-stringer Chris Streveler did not make the trip after injuring his hand. Scout team quarterback, Conor Rhoda, is on the trip. He's a true freshman from Cretin-Derham Hall.
Leidner worked out with the first-team offense during warm-ups, and Nelson worked out with the second team.
Some quick notes from Wednesday's practice:
* Fullback Mike Henry (rib injury) practiced in a green non-contact jersey Wednesday and remains questionable for Saturday.
* Third-string quarterback Chris Streveler suffered a hand injury on a throw, so the Gophers are giving Donovahn Jones more reps at quarterback this week, just in case.
* Freshman running back Berkley Edwards has returned from his sprained ankle injury, but it’s increasingly likely that he will redshirt. Coach Jerry Kill mentioned the depth the Gophers have at running back, especially with Donnell Kirkwood back from his ankle injury.
“Donnell really practiced well the last two days; I think he’s starting to come on,” Kill said. “So I think we’ve got to be smart with what we do with Berkley. That’s a talented young man that you don’t want to burn a redshirt on unless you’re going to play him a lot.”
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Sunday that he's been surprised with all the questions he's received for starting Philip Nelson at quarterback Saturday and sticking with him for the duration of the 23-7 loss to Iowa.
"Philip was our first-team quarterback, and he played well until he got hurt," Kill said. "And then we have the guy who’s his backup [Mitch Leidner] come in, and he does a good job, gets us some wins. But Philip comes back, and he’s healthy and ready to go. So we play him, and I get all these quarterback questions. That kind of amazes me.
"A guy loses his job if the other guy’s playing three times better than he was when he got hurt. And so we’ve got two good quarterbacks, and both of them have already had an impact on our season, and we’re 4-1, and they’ll continue to have an impact on our season. I guess that’s the best way I can put it."
Nelson completed 12 of 24 passes for 135 yards, with one touchdown, two interceptions. He also rushed nine times for minus-18 yards, including four sacks. Kill said the coaches discussed inserting Leidner for a series to "change the rhythm."
"But if you just start pulling people because they're not playing well, then you've got everybody losing confidence," Kill said.
The Gophers coaches also didn't feel like the flow of Saturday's game was conducive for a quarterback switch.
"Maybe Mitch would have went in there and changed the whole game and lit it up, I don’t know," Kill said. "But that’s the decision we make. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s what we get paid to do, and I guess it wasn’t right yesterday. And could we have changed? Should we? Yeah, you can say we could have done a lot of things because we didn’t win the game.
"So I’m OK to be questioned for that, but we don’t have a big quarterback controversy. We’ve got a darn sophomore quarterback [Nelson] and a freshman [Leidner], and they’re both good players, and they’re both learning on the job a little bit. So that’s where we’re at with all that."
Opening Night is one week from tomorrow. Here are some quick notes from Wednesday's practice:
* WR Derrick Engel (groin injury) hasn’t been cleared for contact, but he went through some individual drills today.
* WR Drew Wolitarsky (hamstring injury) has been back at practice the past two days, but the freshman has some catching up to do.
* Asked if the game plan changes with Andre McDonald out (violation of team rules), offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, “Not really because, to be honest with you, Andre had a lot of work that he needed to do to really be a force for us. He would have had that opportunity, had he been able to stick around. But you know, we’re really starting to get comfortable with five or six [receivers], and I think those guys are feeling good.
“Other than maybe getting nicked up a little bit here or there in practice, I think we’re going to be healthy and we’re going to have a pretty good group.”
* CB Marcus Jones, who has fully recovered from a second ACL surgery in his knee, will be one of the players returning kicks and/or punts this year.
“You always go back to trust factor, and Marcus has [returned kicks] in a game,” Coach Jerry Kill said. “So I can tell you he will be a part of the mix. He’s has experience and you can’t replace experience.”
* Limegrover on reserve quarterback Chris Streveler: “It’s like that light bulb’s come on, kind of like what happened with [Philip Nelson] about Week 3 of fall camp [last year]. [Streveler] went through the spring, had his ups and downs. Early part of camp, wasn’t really feeling comfortable and all of a sudden, the light bulb went on. We’re pretty excited and pretty encouraged about Chris, especially the last four or five days.”
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