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.
CHICAGO – Each Big Ten team brought three players to Big Ten Media Days, so there are 42 players here at the Hilton Chicago, and Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is the only sophomore.
The Gophers also brought senior running back David Cobb and senior safety Cedric Thompson. They could have kept their sophomore starting quarterback home, as Penn State did with Christian Hackenberg and Nebraska did with Tommy Armstrong Jr.
But the Gophers have made no secret that they are looking to Leidner now as a team leader.
“I’m really honored to be going,” Leidner said last week. “I’m really happy I get to represent Minnesota because I’m from here and I love this school more than anything.
“We’re just going to go there – me, Cedric and Cobb – with a lot of class and put a good name out there for ourselves.”
Big Ten Network will be airing each coach’s press conference. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is batting leadoff at 9:30 a.m, and Gophers coach Jerry Kill takes the podium at 11:15 a.m. After their time at the podium, each team has 30 minutes of media availability.
I’ll check back later with updates.
One week before their annual spring game, the Gophers held their most extensive scrimmage of spring practice Saturday.
The defense dominated early, keeping the offense without a point for the first seven drives. But the Gophers started running their hurry-up offense, and converted several big plays.
Here were some notable highlights:
- Cedric Thompson made a terrific interception to halt the first drive.
- Ryan Santoso made field goals of 26 and 46 yards. Andrew Harte hit a 43-yard field goal, and those two combined to make every extra point. Those two are both redshirt freshmen.
- Mitch Leidner hit KJ Maye with a 50-yard touchdown pass.
- Donnell Kirkwood had rushes for 7, 8, 37, 9, 19 and 10 yards.
- Chris Streveler completed a 32-yard pass to Eric Carter
- Rodrick Williams had touchdown runs of 7 and 15 yards.
- Berkley Edwards had 49-yard touchdown run.
- Logan Hutton made a big diving catch on a throw by Conor Rhoda.
- Leidner added a 29-yard touchdown run.
For more perspective, noting which defense was on the field for each drive, etc., here’s a summation from my play-by-play notes:
First-offense (Leidner at QB) vs. first defense
Cobb: 2 rushes, 16 yards.
Kirkwood: 1 rush, 7 yards
Last play: Leidner threw a pass for Plsek that got tipped, and Cedric Thompson intercepted it with an acrobatic play.
Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner went through it. So did Chris Streveler. It’s not easy being a Big Ten quarterback in spring practice, when you could still be getting ready for your high school prom.
Dimonic Roden-McKinzy is the latest Gophers quarterback to graduate from high school a semester early and enroll at the University in January instead of September.
I promised myself I wouldn’t overanalyze Roden-McKinzy this spring after hearing Nelson and Leidner talk about how lost they felt their first spring, and after watching Streveler look pretty lost last spring. All of these guys are bright kids. But there is so much to learn.
The first thing you notice about Roden-McKinzy is his height. The Kansas City native is listed at 6-foot, but I think that’s giving him an inch. He looks about five inches shorter than the 6-4 Leidner. Of course, Johnny Manziel wasn’t quite 6-foot either, and he was a pretty decent college quarterback.
In the passing drills, Roden-McKinzy has shown a nice touch. Leidner’s passes seem to have more zip, but Roden-McKinzy can get it there, too. The arm action is free and easy. I’m slipping back into baseball analysis here, but that was always a good sign with pitchers when they had “easy cheese,” good velocity without maximum effort.
Roden-McKinzy also looks like he’ll be plenty nimble as a dual-threat quarterback. I think passing is his strength, but he’ll be able to pull it down and run, too. He's listed at 214 pounds, so he's plenty sturdy. The Gophers have done a little 11-on-11 stuff, but it'll be tough to get a full read on Roden-McKinzy's abilities until they start scrimmaging after spring break.
“He’s really coming along,” Streveler said. “I think he’s doing better than I did my first spring. And I told him that. I think he’s just picking it up a little faster than I did and throwing well. I think everyone’s happy with how he’s doing.”
Streveler has come a long way since last spring, so if I had to bet, I’d say he’ll be the No. 2 quarterback, with Conor Rhoda at No. 3. Rhoda has impressed me, too, and this should allow the Gophers to redshirt Roden-McKinzy and incoming Roseville recruit Jacques Perra.
“I feel good about the quarterbacks play in general, I really do,” Coach Jerry Kill said after the team’s fourth spring practice. “Every one of them has made a mistake here and there, but not like in the past. They’re making good decisions.”
Note: The Gophers will hold Spring Practice No. 5 on Thursday at 4 p.m. They aren't scheduled to practice again until March 25. All spring practices are open to the public.
Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson is heading to Rutgers, his father, Pat Nelson, said today.
Nelson, who announced he was transferring from Minnesota two weeks ago, took an official visit to Rutgers on Sunday and also was considering Kansas State.
Bruce Feldman, of CBSSports.com, first reported the news.
Pat Nelson said his son also considered Texas Tech, San Jose State and San Diego State.
"Rutgers certainly fit the bill really well for Philip," Pat Nelson said. "And also, Ralph Friedgen -- it looks like he’s going to be coming on board [as offensive coordinator]. He’s in a real good situation there with a mentor who really understands the pro-style offense."
Philip Nelson will need to sit out for one year under NCAA transfer rules, but he'll be able to redshirt and still have two years of eligibility remaining. When an athlete transfers within the Big Ten, he typically loses a year of eligibility, but that rule won't apply to Rutgers until after that school officially joins the conference on July 1.
Nelson will enroll in classes at Rutgers on Friday and will be in spring practice this year.
The Gophers aren't scheduled to play Rutgers until Oct. 22, 2016. That game at TCF Bank Stadium will come during Nelson's senior season.
"Philip wants to make it really clear that he would not trade his two years he had with Coach Kill at Minnesota," Pat Nelson said. "He really likes Coach Kill and is very appreciative of the time he got to spend with him.
"Philip is a very pointed individual, and he understands where he wants to go and how to go about it. And I give him a lot of credit for basically being able to take a chance and go out there and be able to find the correct opportunities for him."
Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson enjoyed his official visit to Rutgers but also is considering Kansas State, his father Pat Nelson said in an e-mail.
Pat Nelson wrote: "Visit [to Rutgers] went very well. Philip very impressed. Kansas State now interested and talking with them."
Philip Nelson announced he was transferring from the Gophers two weeks ago. He'll be able to sit out a year, under NCAA transfer rules, and still have two years of eligibility remaining because he has yet to use his redshirt.
This would be true even if he picks Rutgers because the Scarlet Knights don't enter the Big Ten until July 1.
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