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.
Two days into fall camp, it’s clear the Gophers coaching staff is excited about junior college transfer De’Vondre Campbell, who’s a candidate to start at outside linebacker.
Campbell is 6-5, 225 pounds and just oozes athleticism. As one staffer put it today, he looks like MarQueis Gray at linebacker.
Without prompting, Coach Jerry Kill has praised Campbell after both practices. Today, it started with a question about fellow junior college transfer Damien Wilson.
“A guy that’s really impressed me early in camp, really, with the learning curve and catching on has been De’Vondre,” Kill said. “Because he’s a junior college transfer who’s got three years [of eligibility] left. He doesn’t mess around. He’s focused and locked in. He’s really done well the first couple days which surprised me a little bit.”
Campbell is easily the tallest linebacker in camp, and he’s quick, too.
“Everybody worries about height on the D-line; I’m more worried about it at linebacker,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “I like to have linebackers with more length. I think they cover up more passing zones. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take tall D-linemen too, but it’d be nice to get some length and some height at the linebacker spot.”
It also impressed Claeys the way Campbell learned from experience on Day 1.
“Early in practice, he made a huge mistake on a call,” Claeys said. “We got after him, and later on in the practice, the same thing happened -- he’d already had it corrected. So that’s what gets me excited.
“I think it’s important to him. I think he has some natural instincts when it comes to the game. And he has plenty of athletic ability to play.”
* Freshman De'Niro Laster could be another factor at linebacker, a position where the Gophers need to build depth in a hurry. Laster is 6-4, 230 pounds. "De’Niro has the size, where he could play right now, if he picks up on things and things go well," Claeys said. "It’s just too early to tell."
* Here's another notable quote from Claeys: "Somebody rated our D-line 10th in the Big Ten. I don’t believe that. If there’s nine D-lines better than ours, we’re in trouble, I’m just telling you. I feel good about them, our concern is getting the depth at linebacker."
Gophers wide receiver Victor Keise has voluntarily dismissed his claims against the NCAA, as part of Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit, according to AL.com, which received a copy of the court filing today. No reason was given for Keise's decision.
Gophers tight end Moses Alipate remains part of O'Bannon's lawsuit, along with four other active college players, but now Keise has been taken off that list. The players are challenging the NCAA's right to use their likenesses in video games.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill held a press conference today, previewing fall camp, which starts Friday. I'll have more for tonight's first editions, but here are a few notables:
* Offensive tackle Jonah Pirsig (knee surgery) is the biggest remaining question mark health-wise, heading into camp. Kill said Pirsig might have to work some individual drills before he'll be ready to go at full speed.
* Defensive lineman Roland Johnson (ACL surgery) will be ready to go. Kill noted that players coming off that surgery sometimes take a while to get used to contact, but Johnson has progressed quickly.
* Freshman linebacker Chris Wipson (ACL surgery), also will be ready to go.
* Redshirt freshman Jack Lynn and junior college transfer Damien Wilson will continue to battle for the starting middle linebacker job. "I thought Damien and Jack Lynn were neck-and-neck for the spring," Kill said. "I think they both did some good things."
A Gophers team with big questions at wide receiver lost one potential answer Monday, when Devin Crawford-Tufts quit the football team to focus on track.
Crawford-Tufts started eight games last season as a sophomore, catching 16 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. He had the ability to stretch the field but battled injuries and struggled to find consistency.
He was a state champion sprinter at Edina High School, and after joining the Gophers track team last winter, he finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships in the 400 meter.
“Devin and I have met multiple times over the past couple of months,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said in the press release. “… Devin is a fine young man. We wish him well and will be rooting for him.”
With preseason camp set to start Friday, the Gophers top returning receivers are Isaac Fruechte (19 catches, 256 yards last season), Derrick Engel (18, 375), KJ Maye (11, 49) and Andre McDonald (10, 121).
Jamal Harbison is back from knee surgery, and incoming freshmen Eric Carter, Drew Wolitarsky, Donovahn Jones and Chris Streveler could be factors at receiver, too.
It's too soon to know what impact incoming Gophers freshman Berkley Edwards will have this season, but the running back has impressed his new teammates with his speed in summer workouts.
"He’s a tough guy, too," junior running back Donnell Kirkwood said. "He doesn't mind going between the tackles. He might bust a dive for 80 yards. He’s going to be somebody to watch."
Gophers coach Jerry Kill doesn't want to overhype anybody, especially a player who just arrived on campus. But with preseason camp set to open Friday, there's no doubt the coaching staff is excited to see how Edwards' speed compliments the between-the-tackles toughness that Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams have shown.
"It’s hard for me to talk too much about a freshman until I’ve gotten a chance to work with him," Kill said, mentioning junior David Cobb as a player who shouldn't be forgotten. "Going back to Berkley, we hope from what we saw in high school, that he can he pick up the system all that stuff early. If you can have a guy like that, with a mixture of the big, strong [running backs] we have, that's a good thing to have. I don’t think there’s any question about that."
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