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.
Three Gophers defensive linemen are having MRIs for leg injuries today, and the team is particularly concerned about starting defensive tackle Scott Ekpe's right knee.
Ekpe injured his right knee early in Thursday's season opener. He went to the sidelines, had ice on the knee, and was later seen on crutches. Coach Jerry Kill didn't have any specific updates today, but confirmed that three players are having MRIs.
Defensive end Alex Keith also has a left knee injury that has the team concerned, and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms appeared to injure his left ankle.
"You can’t lose any front-line players and be where you need to be," Kill said. "You can have all the depth in the world but then you get less depth. To be successful. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to be lucky, so hopefully we’ll get lucky on this deal, we’ll have to see."
Kill said he might not have details until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.
Kill said defensive end Michael Amaefula and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be back from their respective injuries for the Sept. 6 game against Middle Tennessee State. Offensive tackle Ben Lauer also should be ready to return from his high ankle sprain.
Filling in for Amaefula, Keith had a terrific game against Eastern Illinois, with a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
"Kids mature," Kill said of Keith. "I would say he’s the David Cobb of the defense. He’s matured. I just hope he’s OK."
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover acknowledged Thursday that the team will be careful with left tackle Ben Lauer recovering from a high ankle sprain.
"He’s made some progress, done some things, but at the same time, you rush that back, you might be right back at square one," Limegrover said.
It sounds like Jonah Pirsig will get his first career start at right tackle, with Josh Campion moving over to left tackle, filling Lauer's spot. This will be a chance for Pirsig to show his stuff. When Lauer gets healthy, Campion could move to right guard, allowing the Gophers to keep Pirsig with the first unit.
"I’m going to do my best to keep that spot once Ben gets back," Pirsig said. "And it’s all about competition from there on out."
Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky was held from practice again Thursday. The team hasn't given details about the injury, but the media hasn't really had a chance to ask, either. Long story, but Coach Jerry Kill is usually the one to give specifics. His days to talk to the media this week were Tuesday and Saturday. I didn't hear Wolitarsky was injured until late Tuesday night.
Again, the injury doesn't sound serious. Limegrover explained that the team's multiple tight end sets have made it where wide receiver injuries aren't as costly. The team can get through a game relying on three of four wide receivers, if they have to.
"But obviously we want to get Drew back as quickly as possible," Limegrover said. "He’s worked well with Mitch all the way through. So we want to get him back, but at the same time ... you build depth so one injury doesn't tip you over the edge."
The Gophers will release their first official injury report Tuesday, but for now, team officials insist they feel good about the health going into their Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois. A few items of note:
* Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky and defensive end Michael Amaefula have both been hobbled of late, but coaches say they still think both could be ready for the opener.
* Tight end Duke Anyanwu tore his ACL the first weekend of practice, and that was a tough blow because Anyanwu would have been one of the first replacements for Maxx Williams.
* Offensive lineman Jared Weyler also tore an ACL during camp, but he's a true freshman who likely would have redshirted anyway.
* The Gophers continue to take it slow with offensive lineman Jon Christenson, who is making his way back from last November's broken leg. They hope left tackle Ben Lauer (high ankle sprain) is ready to practice at full-speed Sunday.
From what I've gathered, that's about all there is to report on the injury front.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill gave a couple quick injury updates after Tuesday's practice.
* Starting left tackle Ben Lauer has a high ankle sprain and won't be full-go until at least Sunday. It sounds like the 6-7, 315-pound Lauer is questionable for the Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois.
"He’s slowly getting back," Kill said. "He did individual stuff today, but those things take a while. And certainly, where we’re at now, we’re not going to take any chances. He’s progressed a long way in three or four days. I anticipate him hopefully practicing Sunday, but we’ll see."
* If Lauer can't play, the Gophers likely would start Jonah Pirsig at right tackle, with Josh Campion sliding over to left tackle. Pirsig recently missed three or four days with a groin injury, but he was full-go at practice Tuesday.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill gave Sid Hartman and Dave Mona several new insights this morning on WCCO AM-830. Notably:
* Senior defensive tackle Harold Legania has moved to the offensive line, a switch to give him a better chance at playing time this year.
* Offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig has been out for four or five days with a groin injury. Nothing serious, but another bump in the road for the redshirt sophomore.
* Starting left tackle Ben Lauer has a sprained ankle but should be back Tuesday.
* Junior lineman Josh Campion has played right tackle, left tackle and right guard during camp because of those injuries.
* Kill reiterated that Gaelin Elmore will play this year at defensive end.
* Kill said true freshman Jerry Gibson has been playing H-back (tight end), as well as inside wide receiver.
* Jonathan Celestin, a true freshman linebacker from Jonesboro, Ga., had a “real nice scrimmage” and will play this year.
* Kill also praised true freshman tight end Brandon Lingen, from Wayzata, saying he’ll play, too. Kill said true freshman DE Andrew Stelter has had an “outstanding camp,” though it wasn’t clear if that means Stelter will play this year.
Note: I accepted the #icebucketchallenge from Chip Scoggins, and issued my own to Cedric Thompson, Mitch Leidner and David Cobb. Check out the clip -- our daughter steals the show. Fun way to support a great cause. Help #strikeoutALS.
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