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 -- Incoming Gophers freshmen Donovahn Jones and Chris Streveler will see time at wide receiver as well as quarterback when preseason camp starts Aug. 2, Coach Jerry Kill said Wednesday.
Jones was recruited as a quarterback, but the Gophers have been buzzing about his athleticism since he got to campus. He was a standout basketball player at Dutchtown (Ga.) High School and jumped so high in a recent pickup game at the Bierman facility that he touched his head on the rim.
Streveler, from Marian Central Catholic in Illinois, also was recruited as a quarterback, but he has good speed and has increased his weight from 205 pounds to 218 since getting to campus as an early enrollee in January.
The Gophers are hopeful that Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner will both stay healthy this season, allowing them to experiment with Jones and Streveler at receiver. Even with Andre McDonald returning to the team, wide receiver is a big question mark this season. The Gophers don’t have a player on their roster who caught more than 19 passes last year.
"[Jones] will go to camp as a quarterback, but he also wants to play, and he could help us at receiver; I think he will," Kill said during Big Ten Media Days. "Streveler’s kind of in the same position. He’ll go to camp as a quarterback. We want both of those guys to learn both positions, if they can."
If Jones and Streveler want proof that players can start their college career at wide receiver and still take over at quarterback, they can look at Michigan's Devin Gardne,r or former Gopher MarQueis Gray.
"No question, they certainly are good examples of that," Kill said. "Some guys never move back, some do, but we’ll just see how it goes. Health’s got a lot to do with that. Hopefully we can keep Philip and Mitch healthy and that allows us to do a lot of things. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get your best athletes on the field."
(Note: Look for more Gophers notes and a story about the grilling Ohio State coach Urban Meyer took in tonight's first editions.)
CHICAGO -- The Gophers will open preseason camp on Aug. 2 in preparation for their Aug. 29 opener against UNLV, the team announced today, adding that three of their practices and a scrimmage will be open to the public.
As Coach Jerry Kill has mentioned to Sid Hartman, the Gophers won't be able to hold two-a-day practices until Aug. 10 because summer session doesn't let out until Aug. 9. We'll get Kill's thoughts on that and other topics, when Big Ten Media Days open Wednesday.
Here's a look at the preseason camp dates:
Aug. 2, 5:15 PM – Practice #1, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media
Aug. 3, 10:25 AM – Practice #2, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media
Aug. 4, 10:25 AM – Practice #3, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media
Aug. 5, 5:15 PM – Practice #4, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 6, 5:15 PM – Practice #5, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 7, 5:15 PM – Practice #6, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 8. 5:15 PM – Practice #7, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 9, 5:15 PM – Practice #8, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 10, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #9/#10, Gibson-Nagurski Complex/TCF Bank Stadium, Practice #10 Is Open to Public/Media
Aug. 11 – No practice
Aug. 12, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #11/#12, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 13, 10:25 AM – Practice #13, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 14, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #14/#15, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 15, 10:25 AM – Practice #16, TCF Bank Stadium
Aug. 16, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #17/#18, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 17, 6:07 PM – Practice #19, TCF Bank Stadium
Aug. 18 – No practice
Aug. 19 – No practice
Aug. 20, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM – Practice #20/#21, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 21, 10:25 AM – Practice #22, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 22, 10:25 AM – Practice #23, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 23 – No practice
Aug. 24, 3:40 PM – Practice #24, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 25, 3:40 PM – Practice #25, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 26, 3:40 PM – Practice #26, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 27, 3:40 PM – Practice #27, Gibson-Nagurski Complex
Aug. 28, – No practice
Aug. 29 – Game vs. UNLV at 6:07
Gophers coach Jerry Kill took time in the middle of one of his youth football camps to meet with the media on Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium. Among the news items:
* Sophomore WR Andre McDonald, who missed spring practice and was not enrolled in school because of a personal matter, is in summer school and working out. “So I feel cautiously optimistic he’ll be ready to go” when fall camp opens Aug. 1.
* Kill indicated the biggest questions health-wise are OL Jonah Pirsig (knee surgery), WR Devon Wright (shoulder surgery), C Brian Bobek (viral infection), Zach Mottla (compound leg fracture) and Peter Westerhaus (lingering health concerns).
* Kill said the Gophers have 17 players recovering from surgery. That list includes OL Jon Christenson (ankle) and OL Zac Epping (elbow), but it sounds like they’ll be ready to go Aug. 1.
* Bobek, a transfer from Ohio State, missed much of spring camp and still hasn’t recovered. “He had a real, real serious viral infection,” Kill said. “And I think a lot of that’s gone around the country, but some of that stuff’s taken months and months -- two months, three months -- so it’s a very serious deal. So we’ll just see what they say. Right now, if we were starting tomorrow, he couldn’t go. We hope by camp he’s ready but that’s where we’re at right now.”
* The football team’s 994 APR (Academic Progress Rate) score for the 2011-12 school year was a program record. A 1,000 APR is considered perfect, and the football team has bounced back from a 917 score a few years ago that resulted in the loss of three scholarships. Last June, the Gophers narrowly avoided the same penalty with a 932 multi-year APR score, but this year’s multi-year score (spanning years from 2008-2012) was a 955.
“Someday I’ll write a book on it because to go where we were at, where we were one player away from losing scholarships -- having 25 people on academic warning and three suspended -- and now all of a sudden where we’re at, with basically only 30 new kids in the program," Kill said. "... I give credit to the kids, and I give credit to the coaches and then the academic people.”
Kill added, “All we did as a coaching staff is we held them accountable. We made them go to class, be on time and do what they’re supposed to.”
The Gophers' intersquad scrimmages included a wild card over the weekend. Every so often, when all attention was on the finish of a play being run, Matt Limegrover would shout a surprise announcement:
"Ed Olson's helmet just came off!" Limegrover said he would yell. Or, "MarQueis Gray just lost his helmet!"
They didn't really, but the coaches wanted their players prepared to react to a new rule that takes effect on Thursday. Starting this year, whenever a helmet comes off a player's head, that player must sit out the next play. And the play clock will not be stopped to allow a substitution.
"Guys maybe used to be over there on the sidelines getting a drink of water, but they've got to be paying attention now," said Limegrover, Minnesota's offensive coordinator. "They need to understand that there are only 40 seconds between plays, and we've got to get a play in and run. So you've always got to be ready to go in a hurry."
And leave quickly, too, if your helmet comes off, another emphasis in the practices. That hasn't happened much this fall, Limegrover said, because the equipment staff has taken it as a challenge to avoid such instances as much as possible. "I give Kyle (Gergely) and Andy (Harris) credit, because they go around every day before (warmups) and say, 'Hey, how's it feel? Let me check your chin strap, let me make sure your helmet is properly inflated," Limegrover said. "Coach (Jerry) Kill has let them know ... he expects this not to be a problem, and we have not had many come off."
Limegrover wouldn't be surprised if the rule catches a few teams by surprise, though.
"You would be amazed at how many guys watching the game, who maybe don't think they're going to play, how their helmet is over on the bench, or a manager is holding it and they're 20 yards downfield," he said. "All of a sudden, that position goes down, you turn and say, 'Hey, Johnny! And now he's scrambling. We've burned timeouts and taken delays. And now with this rule, we've been working to make sure these guys understand the importance of being in the game mentally."
The Gophers' fall camp is over. Today they begin working towards facing UNLV next Thursday.
There's no practice for the football team today, but meetings this afternoon will include scouting reports and videotape of the Rebels, and an introduction of the gameplan for Thursday night's season opener in Las Vegas. A normal game week of practices will begin Saturday.
"We've been practicing a mass of people to get prepared" for the season, coach Jerry Kill said, "and now we've got to close that down a little bit to get repetitions" for the starters and backups who will play next week.
Given how young the Gophers are this year -- and it's "maybe the youngest team I've coached in 30 years, next to my second year at Southern Illinois," Kill said -- the coaching staff was tempted to keep practicing all the newcomers, and keep pushing the veterans. But Kill said he recognized the signs of a weary team this week, and decided to back off. Thursday's scheduled full-pads practice was scaled back to a walk-through, essentially giving the team two days of rest before Saturday.
"I felt it was critical. Mentally, we got some work done, but I didn't want to run them," Kill said. "So this allows them to get their legs back, and gives (the coaches) time to make sure we can finalize everything," including the depth chart and game plan. "You sometimes have a tendency to keep pushing, but you can't play with a team that's not going to play fast," he explained.
The coaches had been emphasizing some elements that will be part of the gameplan against the Rebels, Kill said, so they've got a head start on preparations. But now it gets real.
Kill said the new offensive linemen "have been outstanding. But we'd like to redshirt those kids. ... Hopefully we can stay healthy enough to do that. A year ago, we may (have been playing) all three of those guys."
He also complemented junior receiver A.J. Barker as "maybe the surprise of camp." The De La Salle graduate "had a great camp," Kill said. "People don't realize how good an athlete he is. But he hasn't been healthy since I've been here. He's been hamstringed up."
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