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 wide receiver A.J. Barker said via Twitter Sunday afternoon that he is quitting the team and will seek to transfer for his final season.
His tweet read: "Well, its official. I am done playing football for the University of Minnesota and I will be looking to transfer next season for my final yr."
He also created a Tumblr page where he published what he says was a letter he sent to head coach Jerry Kill, explaining why he is quitting. That letter -- which is more than 4,000 words long and contains some strong language -- has some harsh words for the head coach. It alludes to an apparent confrontation earlier this week. Barker, who has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain, is still the team leader with 30 catches for 577 yards and seven TDs.
He wrote in the letter: "In light of that pathetic, manipulative display of rage and love you put on this past Thursday, I have come to the decision, with the guidance of my parents and my closest friends, that my time on this team has come to an end. It kills me that I have to do this before the season’s over, but this is the only way I can protect myself against the manipulation and abuse I’d have to endure from you the rest of this season."
UPDATE: Athletic director Norwood Teague on Sunday night issued a statement regarding Barker's departure that read:
Center Zach Mottla had surgery to repair a broken bone in his lower right left leg over the weekend, and he is recovering at his parents' home in Edina, Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday.
Mottla was injured during the fourth quarter of Saturday's 17-3 victory over Illinois in Champaign, and was taken off the field on a cart. He flew home with the team and had successful surgery in Minneapolis. Kill said he hopes the junior from Cretin-Derham Hall will recover in time for spring drills, but it's too early to tell if that's the case.
"Everything I've heard, he'll be ready to go, and if you talked to him, he's day he's going to be ready to go in two months," the coach said. "I think it'll be awhile."
In the interim, the Gophers are short on centers, because starter Jon Christenson suffered a left ankle sprain on Saturday and Kill said he is questionable for this weekend's game in Nebraska. "Sometimes those are slow, but he's a tough kid, so we'll see how that goes," he said.
Left guard Zac Epping finished Saturday's game at the position, a natural fit since he started the season opener at the position. But the Gophers will train another offensive lineman to play the position this week.
"We'll have to find out who's going to be the backup center," Kill said, and the Gophers tried a couple of players during practice. Junior Ed Olson, a left tackle when he's healthy, was snapping the ball at the end of Tuesday's practice, and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the 6-7, 305-pound Olson would be the emergency center on Saturday.
The Gophers should have much more depth next season. In addition to Christenson, Mottla and Epping, Minnesota will add Brian Bobek, a transfer from Ohio State who is sitting out this season, and Isaac Hayes, a freshman from St. Thomas Academy who is redshirting this season.
The Gophers will prepare for Illinois this week with their leading receiver, A.J. Barker, watching from the sidelines. "I really question whether he will play or not," coach Jerry Kill said at his weekly news conference on Tuesday. "That seems to be a little bit more of an issue than (the team's medical staff) thought at the beginning."
Barker sprained the back of his right ankle, near the achilles, while catching a touchdown pass against Purdue on Oct. 27. He didn't practice until doing some light drills on Thursday, and the Gophers decided before Saturday's game that Barker hadn't healed enough to play. Barker's 30 catches this season are twice as many as the team's second-leading receiver, Isaac Freuchte, and his seven touchdowns are five more than any other wide receiver has scored.
"A.J. is the biggest concern," Kill said. "Unless some miracle takes place, I don't look for him to be able to play on Saturday."
Kill said another receiver, Derrick Engel, injured a hamstring during Saturday's game, "and he's questionable." Engel, however, said the injury shouldn't be something that keeps him out of practice this week.
Left tackle Ed Olson, out for three weeks with ankle injuries of his own, is expected to practice, Kill said, and he hopes the junior will be available at Illinois. Derrick Wells should also play, after sitting out several practices -- but no games -- with a laceration on his leg.
The Gophers had hoped to play Ed Olson and A.J. Barker on Saturday, but neither was healthy enough during warmups to risk it, coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. In fact, Barker suffered another minor ankle sprain while trying to determine whether he could play.
The junior receiver was taken for x-rays, Kill said, after doctors suspected a bone chip might be the cause of his ankle pain, but nothing unusual was detected. Barker, whose seven touchdowns lead the Gophers, will try to practice this week after sitting out all but a mild Thursday workout last week, the coach said.
As for Olson, the junior left tackle, the Gophers intend to remain cautious, especially considering the physical defensive lines that Minnesota will face during the season's final three weeks. With Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State still to come, "we need him to be 100 percent," Kill said. "If he's not, we'll stay with (the current offensive line). These next three games -- we're not a big, bulky offensive line -- it's going to take its toll. So we'll need him."
Kill had planned to ease Olson in on roughly half the snaps Saturday, he said, but he was still moving gingerly, "and you can't play that way."
MarQueis Gray remains hampered by his knee and ankle injuries, too, Kill said, but is healthy enough to run routes and catch passes. Gray was the Gophers' leading receiver against Michigan, with three catches for 27 yards, though a couple more passes were overthrown. The senior hasn't been healthy enough to practice at quarterback, Kill said, but when he is, the Gophers plan to work him into the game plan with occasional snaps to reduce the number of hits starting quarterback Philip Nelson takes.
It's not their coach's health that the Gophers should worry about this weekend.
Jerry Kill conducted his Tuesday press conference as normal on Tuesday, and though the university's public-relations staff cut the appearance short by about half before he could address his recovery from Saturday's seizure, the coach said on the Big Ten conference call that he is "back to work and going full speed."
But several Gophers starters aren't able to go full speed this week.
Most notable is quarterback MarQueis Gray, who is wearing a boot on his left ankle and had difficulty jogging on Tuesday. With another sprained left ankle, his condition is similar to what it was during the team's bye week, when the coach said Gray would not be able to play. His status for Saturday's game at Wisconsin is uncertain.
Left tackle Ed Olson is "likely out" for the game, however, after suffering a knee injury during Saturday's loss to Northwestern. Safety Derrick Wells has a laceration on his knee, and his status is undetermined.
And three receivers -- Devin Crawford-Tufts, Isaac Fruechte and Marcus Jones are all "questionable" as well, Kill said, with Crawford-Tufts' injury the most serious.
That's a serious talent drain for the Gophers' offense, which has not scored more than 17 points in a game since Sept. 15.
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