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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Posts about Gopher recruiting

Gophers add another big offensive line recruit, Quinn Oseland

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 13, 2014 - 2:16 PM

The Gophers continued adding big offensive linemen to their 2015 recruiting class Wednesday, when they landed a commitment from Quinn Oseland, a 6-6, 310-pound tackle from Springfield, Ill.

Oseland, a consensus three-star recruit, told GopherIllustrated.com that he had narrowed his choices down to Minnesota, Illinois and Oklahoma State. He also had reported offers along the way from Oregon, Michigan State and Mississippi State, among others.

Oseland is the Gophers’ 10th commitment for 2015, and the fourth offensive lineman, joining Red Wing’s Nick Connelly (6-7, 260 pounds) Chaska’s Bronson Dovich (6-5, 283) and Ted Stieber, from Akron, Ohio (6-6, 295).

Jones admitted to the U; Gophers still awaiting word on his eligibility

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 8, 2014 - 8:17 PM

 

Prized recruit Jeff Jones posted a Facebook picture Friday, showing his letter of admission from the university.

That’s good news for the Gophers, but they are still awaiting word regarding Jones’ NCAA eligibility. Jones was rated the nation’s No. 7 running back by Rivals.com but came just short of qualifying with his grades coming out of Minneapolis Washburn.

Jones has taken summer school, and soon, the Gophers expect the NCAA to either clear Jones, or at least grant him an initial eligibility waiver. The waiver would allow him to use his scholarship, but he couldn’t play until 2015.

Now that Jones has been admitted to the U, he also has the option of going there even if the NCAA deems him ineligible. In that scenario, he could use a school loan and work to become eligible for 2015. Jones also has the option of attending Iowa Western Community College.

At this point, even if the NCAA clears Jones to play this fall, he likely would redshirt with the Gophers. As Coach Jerry Kill has said, the main point is making sure Jones is ready to play next year, after two of the team's current running backs, David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, have graduated.

Why Connor Mayes is playing guard, and what that says about the Gophers O-line

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 8, 2014 - 10:41 AM

 

One of Minnesota’s top recruits in this year’s freshman class is Connor Mayes, an offensive linemen from Van Alstyne, Texas, who played center in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

 

Scout.com ranked him as the No. 2 center in the nation, but the Gophers started camp with Mayes lined up at right guard on their third-team offensive line. The decision offers a pretty good window into where things stand with what’s shaping up to be a deep offensive line corps.

Here’s how the lines looked the first week of camp:

FIRST GROUP: LT Ben Lauer, LG Zac Epping, C Tommy Olson, RG Foster Bush, RT Josh Campion

SECOND GROUP: LT Joe Bjorklund/Marek Lenkiewicz, LG Isaac Hayes, C Brian Bobek, RG Luke McAvoy/Jon Christenson, RT Jonah Pirsig

THIRD GROUP: LT Luke Rasmussen/Alex Mayes, LG Jared Weyler, C Matt Leidner, RG Connor Mayes, RT Chad Fahning

Matt Limegrover, who serves as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, had several reasons for putting Mayes at guard.

“It’s all about your opportunities and getting a chance to get closer to the field,” Limegrover said. “The one thing about it is Tommy Olson, since he came in [when Christenson broke his leg last November] has done a really good job [at center]. And then behind him, Brian Bobek is really pushing Tommy.

“So you’ve got great competition there, and to be honest with you, playing center as a freshman is a tough deal. Playing guard takes a little bit of that pressure off,” Limegrover said. “We figured that would help him, and it would be an early conduit to get to the field."

Caleb Bak, the Gophers longtime starter at right guard, had to retire because of concussion symptoms, and Christenson is still working his way back from the leg injury. For now, Bush is holding on at right guard, but the Gophers have considered putting Campion at right guard with Pirsig at right tackle.

Mayes could be a couple injuries away from being right in the mix for playing time at guard. He's spending time in team drills at that position, and getting practice snapping to quarterbacks as a center off to the side. Olson is a senior, and Bobek is a redshirt junior. It might take two years, but Mayes could very well be the Gophers center of the future.

So for now, Mayes is a guard. "But as it goes," Limegrover said, "he’s not going to be too far from center."

Kill confident Jones will be a Gopher, even if it takes waiver

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 29, 2014 - 4:53 PM

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.”

Jeff Jones not likely to see Gophers game action this fall, even if he qualifies academically

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 24, 2014 - 3:40 PM

Jeff Jones is not expected to see game action for the Gophers this fall, even if he qualifies academically, according to people close to the situation.

If Jones, the prized recruit from Minneapolis Washburn, clears the NCAA academic clearinghouse in coming days, he would likely redshirt. With practice set to open next Friday, the Gophers already have strong depth at running back depth, and Jones could use the year to get settled academically.

Three sources said Thursday that they’re still optimistic Jones will end up at the university this fall, but Iowa Western Community College remains an option. His standing is still in flux, as his summer school classes stretched into late July.

The Gophers hope to have an answer on whether Jones clears the NCAA clearinghouse and gains his scholarship before practice opens Aug. 1, but it could take until the following week. The team is awaiting word on Jones’ NCAA eligibility, and there’s also the question of whether he’ll make it through the university’s admissions office.

Jones is right on the bubble of qualifying for his scholarship. The NCAA uses a sliding scale – with grades and test scores -- to determine eligibility. Jones had a solid ACT score but his grades weren’t high enough to quality upon graduation from Minneapolis Washburn.

It’s still possible the NCAA will clear Jones to play in 2014, but even in that scenario, all signs point to a redshirt season. The Gophers running back depth chart has seniors David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, junior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards. Jones would be getting a late start, as most of the team’s freshmen are already on campus, going through strength and conditioning workouts and captain’s practices.

It’s also possible that Jones will make it to the university as a partial qualifier. In that scenario, the NCAA would allow the Gophers to give Jones his scholarship, but he wouldn't’t be eligible to practice or compete for one year.

For Jones, the third option remains playing two years at Iowa Western Community College. Non-qualifiers must spend at least two seasons at junior college – long enough to complete their associates’ degree -- to obtain Division I eligibility.

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