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.

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Kill's 'special team' looks like no fun

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football, Gophers spring football Updated: March 24, 2011 - 9:43 PM

     Football practice always looks like a lot of effort. But I've never seen anyone work quite as exhaustively as Michael Carter did on Thursday.
     Carter is the only current member of what Jerry Kill called "my special team," a team you definitely don't want to be part of. Kill wouldn't reveal what the junior cornerback's transgression was, though offenses like being late for a meeting or missing a class will make you a member.
     Whatever his crime, Carter definitely paid for it. First, he went through all the pre-practice conditioning wearing a brown jersey with "Minnesota Lopher" printed on the front in big pink letters, and "I let my teammates down" on the back.
     Once practice began, Carter commenced a long day of pulling a long, thick rope, like a ship-anchor rope, attached to a sled burdened down with heavy weights. As soon as he pulled it to him from roughly 30 yards away, he had to get on his hands and knees and push it back.
     Not a good time. "I don't want any part of that," tailback Duane Bennett said empathetically.
     Probably close to 100 fans showed up to watch practice, along with a large media gathering, and they saw a fairly basic football workout. Can't say I noticed any drills or techniques I hadn't seen before. But the energy level of the coaching staff is unmistakable. They're running around after every play, complimenting or (mostly) correcting, but always keeping things moving. Kill said the Gophers had lived up to his hopes with their effort, though "anybody can do something for one day. ... You've got to do it, play-in-play-out, [and] be consistent every day."
     Way too early, of course, to project anything, but there were a couple of first impressions:
     -- Linebacker Keanon Cooper got into the backfield a couple of times from the left edge, a nice way to get noticed by a coaching staff that is placing greater emphasis on pressuring the quarterback.
     -- Kim Royston didn't appear hampered at all by his year-ago broken leg. He said he's 90 percent healthy, but "that 10 percent is just getting my coordination back, getting some of my speed back, getting over all the hurdles that's to be expected with an injury like this."
     -- Moses Alipate's arm is as Nolan Ryan as ever; he hit freshman C.J. Cesario in stride with a long bomb during one-on-one drills.
     -- Troy Stoudermire moved well at cornerback, making a nice interception off Tom Parish. But he was noticeably not as fast as freshman Marcus Jones during punt-return practice.
     -- MarQueis Gray couldn't come close to a receiver during early drills, but settled down and made a couple of athletic throws in the late-in-the-day 11-on-11s. He's handling all the attention well, knowing that if he's the quarterback, he'll be the face of this team.
     -- The offensive line is huge and rugged. And Ed Olson, who played as a redshirt freshman last fall, could hardly stand still afterward, he was so excited about being back on the field. "We've worked hard the past couple of months, and it's paying off now," he said. "I'm working to prove myself every day. I'm trying to be a role model."
     -- Da'Jon McKnight made a couple of one-handed catches, snatching the ball out of midair, and certainly looked the part of a future NFL receiver.
     -- Kill loves special teams. He worked with the punting and kickoff teams early, and even got hit, he said, by the kicker. He's certainly fiery on the field, but noted that "it's not personal, it's the way we coach. We've had tough teams where I've been, hard-nosed kids. Everybody's got a different style."
And the players know that, too. "I'll go in there and eat with them, hug them and joke with them. But when we're in here, it's time to work. ... You just have to build a relationship."
     -- Rod Wallace Field, the Gophers' indoor practice facility? Leaks. Badly. Add it to the university's wish list.

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