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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CHICAGO -- It was a newsy day for the Gophers here at Big Ten Media Days, as Coach Jerry Kill mentioned several items of note. A quick recap, as the team gets ready to start practicing Friday:
* TE Maxx Williams (knee) is back to full speed. In fact, quarterback Mitch Leidner said Williams and fellow tight end Duke Anyanwu have posted running speeds as quick as anybody on the team, including the wide receivers and defensive backs. Scary.
* Kill said incoming freshmen tight ends Gaelin Elmore and Jerry Gibson are both candidates to play immediately at the H-back position. Mike Henry played there last year at 5-11, 230 pounds. Elmore is 6-6, 260 pounds, and Gibson is 6-3, 230. They’ll probably start out at tight end – Gibson actually might line up at wide receiver – but the Gophers will look for ways to get them on the field, too.
* RB Donnell Kirkwood had surgery earlier this summer (not sure what the injury was) but is working his way back to full speed. “He hasn’t been the same, but he feels good now,” Kill said.
* DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun is fully recovered from his ACL injury. He looked terrific by the end of spring practice.
* DB Derrick Wells (shoulder surgery) missed spring practice but is back to 100 percent. “He may be as healthy as he’s been,” Kill said.
* WR Connor Krizancic has a hamstring injury. Kill said his status for the start of camp is uncertain.
* Melvin Holland Jr. is the most advanced of the incoming freshmen receivers, Leidner said.
* LB Cody Poock had surgery to repair a torn ACL in March, but believe it or not, Kill said the coaches are considering clearing him for practice. Kill said a decision will be made Thursday.
“If he can come in and do pass shell and non-contact, we’ll probably bring him in,” Kill said. “Is he going to be guaranteed to be ready to be able to play by the Big Ten schedule? I don’t know. I know that’s his goal. But if we get into that thing, and he’s not 100 percent, we will not play him, because he can get another year [of eligibility].”
* The Gophers gave offensive lineman Jon Christenson some time off recently, hoping to get him in good shape for the start of fall camp. Christenson, a starting center last year who is coming off a broken leg injury, could move to guard.
* Kill injured an hamstring doing up-downs (a conditioning drill) about 10 days ago and is walking with a limp. But as for his epilepsy, things sound great.
“I trained hard in the offseason, too,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of walking. I dropped about 12-13 pounds, quit drinking Coke and Diet Coke. I’m drinking water. All the things that can help bring on [seizure] situations, I’ve made sure I addressed.”
I caught up today with Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Here are a few tidbits:
* CB Derrick Wells, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, is getting back to full strength. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun was back to full speed from his knee surgery by the end of spring practice.
“You’re taking a secondary that played well a year ago, and we’ve got the core back,” Claeys said, referring to a unit that lost Brock Vereen but returns Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis, among others. “And then you’re adding Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy to it. It’s by far as deep and as good as we’ve been, with kids who’ve proven they can play at the Big Ten level.”
* DE Hank Ekpe missed most of spring practice because of a virus, but he’s fully recovered and has his weight back to 250 pounds.
* LB De’Vondre Campbell weighed in at 238 pounds this morning. The weights were just updated on the roster, but those were from the end of spring practice. Campbell was listed at 226 then, but the 6-5 specimen has really bulked up in recent weeks.
“The funny thing is he doesn’t look as long, like a spider anymore because he’s put on some weight,” Claeys said. “He really looks good.”
* Middle linebacker Damien Wilson was asked to shed weight, and he’s down from 254 to 245.
* And Jack Lynn, the other projected starting linebacker, who came to campus at 220 pounds, is pushing 240.
The Gophers ranked 25th in the country in points allowed last year (22.2) after ranking 45th (24.7) the previous year. Now they have to replace five defensive starters, including Vereen and fellow NFL pick Ra’Shede Hageman.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play better this year again,” Claeys said. “We’re going to have more kids this year than ever who are going to play who’ve already got two years or more of experience. So the depth is going to be there, and we’re getting better athletically.”
Caleb Bak, who started 20 consecutive games at right guard for the Gophers before suffering a concussion last season, announced Tuesday that he won’t be returning for his senior season.
Bak tried making a comeback during spring practice. He went through the first three workouts before his concussion symptoms returned.
big thanks to everyone that has supported me over the last 4 years. Sad to say I won't be returning for my final year of football #GoGophers— Caleb Bak (@0xluc1d) May 27, 2014
Foster Bush replaced Bak as the starting right guard last season. This spring, the Gophers gave Josh Campion reps at right guard, knowing Jonah Pirsig could be ready to take over for Campion at right tackle.
Bak walked onto the Gophers out of Concordia Academy and became a fixture on the line before suffering his injury. He is majoring in computer science.
Besides Bak and departing senior Ed Olson, who split time at left tackle late last season with Ben Lauer, the rest of the Gophers’ offensive line will return intact this fall.
Gophers linebacker Cody Poock has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, a person familiar with his injury said Monday.
The team was finalizing the diagnosis, with Coach Jerry Kill expected to address the injury with the media after Tuesday’s practice.
Poock suffered the injury at Saturday's practice. On Sunday, he posted on his Twitter page (@codyallenpoock), “Everything happens for a reason.”
It’s a tough blow for the Gophers, as Poock had been playing with the first-team defense, alongside linebackers Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell.
Poock is expected to have surgery soon, and his ability to return this fall will depend on how he heals. Last year, Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan suffered a torn ACL injury in spring practice. He had surgery March 28 and was back playing again for the Wolverines on Oct. 12.
Gophers cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun tore his ACL in the season’s second game last year (Sept. 7 at New Mexico State) and he already has seen time in 11-on-11 drills this spring.
Poock still has three years of eligibility remaining after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. He had the grades to play Division I coming out of Spirit Lake High School last year but didn’t get the offers he wanted, so he went the junior college route.
He made 80 tackles for an 11-1 Iowa Western team and picked Minnesota over TCU. This spring, he quickly emerged as the leading candidate to replace departing senior Aaron Hill at strong-side linebacker.
Nick Rallis, a redshirt sophomore from Edina, filled in for Poock with the first-team defense for the rest of Saturday’s practice. The Gophers have been pleased with Ray Dixon’s play with the second-team defense, making him another candidate to replace Poock.
With Wilson entrenched at middle-linebacker for one more year, it’s also possible the Gophers could move his backup, Jack Lynn, to an outside spot this fall.
Caught up with Gophers coach Jerry Kill in his office today. Some quick notes:
* Spring practice will start on March 4, with the spring game on April 12. That’s much earlier than last year, as the team waited to start until March 26 with the spring game on April 27. This year, the team will hold two weeks of camp before spring break (March 17-21) and three weeks after the break.
* Players scheduled for offseason surgery include: CB Derrick Wells (shoulder), WR KJ Maye (groin), T Jonah Pirsig (hand), TE Alex Bisch (ankle), FB Tyler Hartman (shoulder).
CB Briean-Boddy Calhoun (knee surgery) will be ready for spring practice, but the Gophers plan to be careful with him. C Jon Christenson (broken leg) is doing well with his rehab but won’t participate in spring practice. C Matt Leidner (quarterback Mitch Leidner’s younger brother) has a foot injury but should be ready for spring practice.
* Two players from the 2014 recruiting class are scheduled to begin classes this month, allowing them to compete in spring practice: LB Cody Poock (a transfer from Iowa Western Community College) and QB Dimonic McKinzy from Kansas City (Mo.) Wyandotte High School.
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