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.
MarQueis Gray and Eric Lair have said the Gophers' new offense isn't a huge departure from the past, that it's mostly a different emphasis on certain things, perhaps a few new wrinkles. But the defense?
"It's completely different," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said after Thursday's practice. "It's a complete overhaul."
That may account for the inconsistent play that Claeys said he's seeing every day, as his new players try to master a system they only learned 10 days ago. "Right now, we don't have anybody who consistently does their job on every snap," Claeys said. He's not angry or frustrated by that, he said; it's to be expected with everything that the players are expected to absorb.
The Gopher defensive staff has introduced roughly 70 percent of the new playbook, Claeys estimated, a system that replaces last year's emphasis on gap coverage and individual responsibility with a more aggressive, team-based concept. The players have to forget everything they knew last year -- and by the same token, Claeys said he has been careful not to judge anyone by what he saw on film -- and get comfortable with the new defense.
"Three-quarters of it in, that's a lot in just five practices," he said. "We won't move much farther until we've got a pretty good grasp of what we're doing now."
He's not close to being ready, Claeys said, to draw up a depth chart, because nobody has impressed him enough to be first team. After consideration, though, he said there has been one exception: Cornerback Troy Stoudermire.
"He's worked his tail end off to learn his assignments, and he has played well consistently, probably more than anyone out here," Claeys said of the senior cornerback, who nearly quit the team last year after being switched to defense from wide receiver. "If there's anyone you can talk about being first team, it'd be him."
A few more notes from Thursday's practice:
-- The Gophers remained indoors once more, since the turf on their outdoor field remains lumpy and uneven in spots due to frost lingering beneath it. (The university has budgeted nearly $800,000 to replace the worn-out carpet, but that work won't begin until May.) Coach Jerry Kill has had players injured on uneven turf in the past, and said though he much prefers practicing outdoors, he's not willing to risk a player's health to do it.
Rain forecast for later this week should remove the rest of the frost and allow the tuft to expand and smooth out, the team has been told. Meanwhile, the snow was scraped off the turf at TCF Bank Stadium on Wednesday, and Saturday's practice there should go on as scheduled.
-- Kill was even more animated than usual on Thursday, and became frustrated by players breaking the huddle at half-speed. At one point, he ordered the entire team to do a set of drop-down calisthenics. "I'll run you the rest of your life after practice if you can't break the huddle right!" he shouted.
He was even more fired up during "board drills," yelling at various players "It ain't a dance contest!" and "Are your hands broke?" and "What, are you in love with him?" to keep them motivated.
And after practice, Kill delivered a long lecture about working hard and refusing to quit.
-- The quarterbacks all had a so-so day, with MarQueis Gray scattering a few throws (and having a few more dropped, most notably by freshman Marcus Jones) and the backups suffering a rash of mistakes. Tom Parish took most of the backup snaps early in the practice, but his coach, Jim Zebrowski, got more and more frustrated with his mistakes. Moses Alipate took over, and I didn't see Parish take another snap, though I don't know if that was planned anyway or not.
-- Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman made an impact a couple of times, once breaking through the line for an impressive sack (if they were allowed to tackle, anyway).
-- Kim Royston made a couple of hits, and said afterward his condition is better than he expected. "I had a couple of doctors tell me I'd have trouble with the mental part" of returning from a broken leg, the senior safety said, "but I haven't had any hesitation out there."
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