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.
After the Gophers first spring practice Tuesday, coach Jerry Kill was asked who stood out.
"Adam Weber stood out," Kill said. "And I mean that in a positive way. I think that’s a good thing we did there [hiring Weber as a graduate assistant]. And certainly after one day’s practice, watching him work, that’s a good thing."
Weber (pictured right with quarterback Jacques Perra) is the school's all-time passing leader. Kill said Weber's presence will allow quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski to "move around a little more," with the rest of the offense.
"It’s one of the best things that can happen for us at the quarterback position," Mitch Leidner said. "Just having someone who’s been through it, someone who’s worked with some of the best in the pros, and having him here to help us with little things has been awesome."
Leidner said he also learned a lot from Ryan Maiuri, who had the team's offensive GA job the previous two years.
"He's a great guy who’s had a huge impact on my life," Leidner said.
Note: The Gophers will hold their second spring practice Thursday, but this one is closed. Beginning Saturday, all practices are open to the public. Here's a full list of the practice dates and times.
I caught up with Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover on Tuesday to get his thoughts looking ahead to spring practice, which starts March 3. Limegrover is always a good quote, so I'll be sprinkling his comments into my coverage throughout camp. For now, here are a few of the things I gleaned from the conversation:
* Limegrover plans to give Josh Campion a good look at guard this spring, knowing he could always move back to tackle. This would allow a potential starting O-line that includes the 6-7 Ben Lauer at left tackle and 6-9 Jonah Pirsig at right tackle, with the 6-5 Campion at one of the guard spots.
* But Limegrover isn't promising anything to Lauer or Pirsig. He challenged Lauer, specifically, feeling that he wasn't quite as driven as he need to be coming into last season after earning Freshman All-American honors in 2013. He knows Lauer dealt with a high ankle sprain and mono last fall but wants him to bring his A-game this spring. The same goes for Pirsig, even though he made big strides last season.
* With Tommy Olson graduated and Jon Christenson not expected to practice this spring, the center duties will primarily go to Brian Bobek and Connor Mayes. The Gophers expect Christenson to play a big role this fall, and they just want to him to focus on building strength after having a rod removed from his leg last week. Mayes and Christenson are candidates to start at center, as well as guard. Matt Leidner, Mitch's younger brother, provides depth on the center depth chart, and the Gophers might give some snaps to early enrollee Tyler Moore.
* Jerry Gibson will come to camp as a wide receiver. Someday, he might move to H-back, in the mold of Maxx Williams, but he hasn't put on enough weight for that yet. For now, Gibson is part of a talented quartet of wide receivers who redshirted last year, along with Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland.
* The two leading candidates to replace Williams at H-back are Duke Anyanwu (who tore an ACL in early August) and Nick Hart.
* The three leading candidates to replace Drew Goodger at the Y-tight end spot (more of a blocking position) are Lincoln Plsek, Brandon Lingen and Nate Wozniak. Lingen saw time behind Williams last year as a true freshman, but his future is at the Y-spot.
* As for replacing David Cobb, Limegrover said that will probably be a multi-person job, though he did say, "I think Rodrick [Williams] is working hard to prove that he can be a 22-25 carry, 55-65 play guy." Limegrover is also excited to see what Berkley Edwards, Rodney Smith and Jeff Jones can do this spring.
* Limegrover also can't wait to see how Mitch Leidner builds off the experience he gained as a full-time starting QB last fall. "I thought Mitch really settled down as the season went on, and I think there’s a comfort level," Limegrover said. "There’s just an air about him that’s completely different than it was last Feb. 17, just because it’s like, 'I've been through this all for a year. I’m going to be the starter. I’m going to be the guy.' There’s just a calmness to him now that I really like."
Gophers career passing leader Adam Weber is rejoining the team -- this time as a graduate assistant coach.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill hired Weber to replace outgoing graduate assistant Ryan Maiuri, who worked closely with quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, helping develop Mitch Leidner and Co.
“I really am excited to join such a great staff under Coach [Jerry] Kill,” Weber said. “I’m just looking to be a sponge. It just seems like a great fit.”
Weber started for the Gophers from 2007 to 2010, setting school records for passing attempts (1,594), completions (909), passing yards (10,917) and touchdown passes (72).
Weber, 27, had stints with the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he got cut last year after signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I traveled for three months overseas and that was a great way for me to digest it all, to kind of close that chapter and then really prepare myself for that next step,” Weber said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to open up that door and get into coaching.”
Weber will be working toward a masters’ degree while he is coaching the Gophers. In his four years as Minnesota’s quarterback, the team had four different offensive coordinators under then-coach Tim Brewster.
“I had so many different coaches and so many different coaching styles,” Weber said. “I can take a little bit away from each and then develop into my own coach.”
Weber, a Mounds View grad, can relate to Leidner as a Minnesota-born quarterbacks handling the pressures of quarterbacking the Gophers. They’ve already forged a bond.
“As soon as Mitch took the reigns, I reached out to him to let him know, if he ever has any questions, I’m always here,” Weber said. “Now I’m excited that I can be more involved and be there on a day-to-day basis, and try to help all the quarterbacks – and the entire team.
“I’m very entry level, being a G.A. I’ll try to learn as much as I can from these guys and also be a resource when I can be.”
After watching video of Saturday’s win at Michigan, Gophers coach Jerry Kill was particularly impressed with quarterback Mitch Leidner.
“Probably the key to the game was, we did good things throwing the football,” Kill said Sunday. “Actually, Mitch was on target on every throw he made. Mitch got some pressure but he stood in there and threw it, didn’t turn the ball over.”
Leidner completed 14 of 22 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. The redshirt sophomore had missed the previous game with a knee and toe injury after throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in the loss at TCU.
The coaches thought Leidner relaxed and had fun at Michigan after pressing too hard in the season’s first three games.
“I know Mitch has his critics, but they still don’t understand the kid is young,” Kill said. “And he also played well in the Big House last year. So I think it was a really good game for him. He gained confidence.”
Gophers quarterback Chris Streveler was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week on Monday after rushing for 161 yards in Saturday's 24-7 victory over San Jose State. Streveler shared the honor with Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales.
Filling in for injured starter Mitch Leidner, Streveler completed just one of seven passes for seven yards, but was a major part of the Gophers 380-yard rushing attack.
The last time the Gophers had a Big Ten Freshman of the Week was last year, when Leidner rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-24 win over San Jose State.
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