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.
To block an onrushing defender, Matt Limegrover was demonstrating on Friday, you have to keep your hands in front of you, thumbs together and down.
But how could he get his point across with his assortment of 300-pound offensive linemen?
"You've got to get to the heart of it with these guys," the Gophers' offensive coordinator explained after Minnesota's second practice of the spring. "Put it in terms they understand."
Mission accomplished. Limegrover stopped practice and took a poll: How many of you have eaten at Five Guys?
Every hand went up at the mention of the nearby burger chain.
"Well, imagine you're holding a double [burger] and are about to take a bite," Limegrover said. "That's where I want your hands."
Now that's coaching.
"Hey, I could have used geometric angles and things, but every one of them [knew] that was a great visual for them," Limegrover laughed afterward. "Every one of them thought about eating that double burger. They were learning something."
So it went on Day 2 of Minnesota's spring football practice, an energetic cram session on the Gophers' new playbook. There were noticeably more mistakes than on the first day -- fumbled snaps, underthrown passes -- but Limegrover was neither surprised nor discouraged.
"They're kind of on overload right now. We're throwing a lot at them. Coach (Jerry) Kill's philosophy is, get it in, throw it all at them and as we go, they'll learn how to adjust," Limegrover said. "It isn't like the defense is out there running a vanilla defense, and we're running one or two plays."
No, and practice is as non-stop as on the first day, so "they know now how we're going to work, and what our demands will be," Limegrover said. "We want to do that these first four or five practices so we can say, we got [the playbook] in, now we can see who adjusts to it best. The last five practices or so, [we'll say] OK, who are the best guys who were able to adjust and can excel in what we want them to do?"
They may be overwhelmed, but Limegrover said his new players impress him in one aspect. "They seem really hungry," he said. But of course -- who wouldn't be with all this burger talk?
Some notable moments from practice:
-- Nothing gets football players more fired up, good and bad, than turnovers, and Friday's biggest cheer came when linebacker Keanon Cooper scooped up a fumble and raced about 30 yards into the end zone. Most of his fellow defenders ran to congratulate him as though it came in a real game, and the offensive coaches used it as a teaching moment -- albeit an unhappy one -- to remind the offense to pursue the ball.
-- Troy Stoudermire and Kenny Watkins made interceptions, and each of them got to the end zone, too. Stoudermire also had a couple of interesting duels with senior receiver Da'Jon McKnight. On one deep ball, Stoudermire made contact too early and McKnight stumbled, but the wideout nearly made the catch anyway as he fell to the turf. Pretty amazing effort.
-- McKnight, who I wrote about for tomorrow's paper, also made a juggling catch of a long pass from Tom Parish, making it look easy.
-- They haven't started tackling yet, so go figure, the running backs and quarterbacks are breaking some long runs. But MarQueis Gray in particular looked awfully elusive on a couple of quarterback draws.
What had Kill enthused, though, was Gray's mental success, his understanding of the playbook.
"He's surprised me a little bit," the coach said. "He's done a decent job. But as this thing goes, it gets faster and he has to keep up."
-- Funniest moment of the 11-on-11 drills: Gary Tinsley got past a blocker and reached Gray in the pocket. The quarterback tried to scramble, but Tinsley had grabbed his shorts, and accidentally pantsed Gray as he tried to get away.
-- There were two players wearing "Minnesota Lopher" jerseys on Friday, and Kill, though uncomfortable about discussing his disciplinary methods, said he also pulled a player out of practice for not working hard enough. Does he think his message is getting through? "I don't know if you'll ever 'get it' in college football, or in life, or in kindergarten class," Kill said. "Kids are kids."
-- Hey! Guess who's joined the Twitter Revolution! I'll try to dispense 140 characters worth of Gopher knowledge, or a close approximation, whenever possible via @MillerStrib. As of this writing, I've already got nine followers, so let's see if we can get that up to 14 or 15 by Monday. My big debut was going to come from the sidelines today -- until Kill requested that observers not tweet during practice.
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