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.
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.”
CHICAGO – While the Gophers wait to see if the NCAA clearinghouse grants running back Jeff Jones his eligibility, he is prepared to appeal for an initial eligibilty waiver if necessary, Coach Jerry Kill said.
Kill sounded confident Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days that Jones would be a part of the program, even if he's not able to play in games this fall.
Jones is right on the bubble to qualify academically for Division I. The NCAA uses a sliding scale using test scores and grades. Jones had a solid ACT score, but his grades were not high enough coming out of Minneapolis Washburn.
Jones is still finishing summer school, Kill said. Once that's done, the Gophers will submit his grades and scores to the NCAA clearinghouse.
“Even with that decision, you can appeal that decision with a letter,” Kill said. “That letter talks about all the things that Jeff has gone through in his life. And then they’ll make an ultimate decision there, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Kill added, “I don’t want to say too much what he’s gone through with his family, but the point is, you can mention that he also has a letter.”
Kill also said, “I know the NCAA inside-out because I’ve been through it before. … When you read his letter … usually they grant [eligibility]. Either he’ll be a partial or a full qualifier.”
Others familiar with Jones’ situation have said he would likely redshirt this fall even if the NCAA clears him to play. Kill didn’t go that far, but agreed the Gophers have strong running back depth with David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood entering their season year, Rodrick Williams coming back as a junior, and redshirt-freshman Berkley Edwards.
“[Jones] understands where he’s at,” Kill said. “We need him next year more than anything. Concentrate on school and get him here this year.”
CHICAGO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Monday that the team won't officially name captains until after two-a-day practices are finished, but Kill made it clear quarterback Mitch Leidner and safety Cedric Thompson are logical choices.
"I think it’s pretty obvious with what those two kids have done," Kill said after leaving the podium at Big Ten Media Days. "I don’t know if we need any more leadership. Those two kids have done an unbelievable job in the summer.
"Mitch has been incredible. And really, I give kudos to Cedric, because he came in and said, 'Hey, I want the responsibility. I don’t care what anybody thinks of me, I want to win and do it now.' So that excites me a whole bunch."
Last year, the Gophers had four captains -- Josh Campion, Aaron Hill, Brock Vereen and Ra'Shede Hageman. Campion, a junior offensive tackle, is the only one of the four who returns this fall.
I'll have much more from Chicago in tonight's first editions.
CHICAGO – Each Big Ten team brought three players to Big Ten Media Days, so there are 42 players here at the Hilton Chicago, and Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is the only sophomore.
The Gophers also brought senior running back David Cobb and senior safety Cedric Thompson. They could have kept their sophomore starting quarterback home, as Penn State did with Christian Hackenberg and Nebraska did with Tommy Armstrong Jr.
But the Gophers have made no secret that they are looking to Leidner now as a team leader.
“I’m really honored to be going,” Leidner said last week. “I’m really happy I get to represent Minnesota because I’m from here and I love this school more than anything.
“We’re just going to go there – me, Cedric and Cobb – with a lot of class and put a good name out there for ourselves.”
Big Ten Network will be airing each coach’s press conference. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is batting leadoff at 9:30 a.m, and Gophers coach Jerry Kill takes the podium at 11:15 a.m. After their time at the podium, each team has 30 minutes of media availability.
I’ll check back later with updates.
The Gophers are headed for a fifth-place finish this year in the Big Ten West, behind Northwestern, according to a poll of 29 writers conducted by Cleveland.com.
The same poll predicted the Gophers would finish last in the Legends Division last year, and the Gophers responded with a 4-4 conference record, finishing ahead of Michigan (3-5) and Northwestern (1-7).
Heading into their fourth year under Coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers need to replace NFL draft picks Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, along with quarterback Philip Nelson and leading receiver Derrick Engel. But overall, it’s an older team that expects to take another step forward this year.
The Big Ten scrapped its Legends and Leaders format and adopted East and West divisions with Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference this year. The Big Ten does not conduct its own media poll, so Cleveland.com has been putting this together for four years. I’m one of the voters and had the Gophers finishing fourth in the West, ahead of Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.
Here’s the predicted order of finish -- note there were more than 29 first-place votes in each division because of predicted ties:
1. Wisconsin, 183.5 points (15 first-place votes)
2. Iowa, 173 points (11)
3. Nebraska, 157.5 points (5)
4. Northwestern, 112 points (1)
5. Minnesota, 96.5 points
6. Illinois, 58 points
7. Purdue, 31.5 points
1. Ohio State, 195 points (23 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State, 180 points (10)
3. Michigan, 136 points
4. Penn State, 105.5 points
5. Maryland, 84 points
6. Indiana, 78.5 points
7. Rutgers, 33 points
Big Ten title game matchup predictions
Ohio State over Wisconsin, 12 votes
Michigan State over Iowa, 5
Ohio State over Iowa, 4
Ohio State over Nebraska, 3
Michigan State over Wisconsin, 2
Michigan State over Nebraska, 1
Michigan State over Northwestern, 1
Nebraska over Ohio State, 1
Preseason vote for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (13)
2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (10)
3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (4)
4. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)
4. Jake Ryan, Michigan (1)
Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (21)
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (5)
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (2)
4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB (1)
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