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.
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.
The Gophers were holding their breath after tight end Maxx Williams suffered a knee injury in the final minute of Friday's loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.
Williams limped to the bus after the game, and the team feared the worst. But Coach Jerry Kill said Sunday on his weekly WCCO (AM-830) appearance that Williams' injury won't require surgery.
"We certainly didn't want to lose that kid during [spring practice]," Kill told Sid Hartman and Dave Mona. "We found out it's not great but not as bad as it was. It won't require surgery. So that started my new year right. We're excited that it wasn't as bad as we thought originally."
Little clarity on quarterback competition
The Texas Bowl appeared to throw the quarterback competition wide open for next season between Philip Nelson, Mitch Leidner and, perhaps, Chris Streveler, who redshirted this season. Kill tiptoed around that question on Sunday, however.
"It’s one of those things that I’m not really going to say a whole lot about," Kill said. "All that will work out. … I think time will take care of all that, and we’ve got a lot of things that we need to work on. We went through those things [at Northern Illinois] with Chandler [Harnish] and Jordan [Lynch]. And Chandler, a kid that played for me at Northern had been through some times, and we had to do different things his first year as a sophomore and so forth ... so it all works out."
Gophers coach Jerry Kill addressed the media after tonight's practice. Here's a quick update on quarterback Philip Nelson, who left the Michigan State game on Nov. 30 after getting his bell rung. Nelson is fine. He has been full-go in all the team's practices since the Michigan State game.
Gophers wide receiver Derrick Engel underwent surgery this week to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and announced on Twitter that the surgery was a success.
Engel, a senior from Chaska, leads the Gophers with 25 receptions for 401 yards and five touchdowns. He suffered the injury in practice on Nov. 17, six days before the Wisconsin game.
The injury ended Engel's college career. He had walked on with the Gophers after transferring from Winona State and was put on scholarship this year.
On Tuesday, Engel tweeted (@D_Engel18): "Surgery was a success. Definitely more pain than I was expecting on day 1 tho. I thought this nerve block would be a lil stronger haha."
After a tense standoff Saturday during Wisconsin's post-game celebration with Paul Bunyan's Axe, Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday that the two sides need to talk about how best to handle those celebrations in the future.
Wisconsin won the Axe for the 10th consecutive year and pretended to chop down the west goal post at TCF Bank Stadium. The Badgers waited until the Gophers players finished singing "Hail! Minnesota" with the band, and then moved in on the east goal post.
But the Gophers wouldn't let them get to it. This led to a standoff, and security had to help separate the teams. Kill was asked Tuesday, during the Big Ten teleconference, if the teams need to establish an understanding for future celebrations.
"I don’t point fingers at anything," Kill said. "There are some traditions when somebody wins the Axe and so forth. I’ve only been here [three] years, and Coach [Gary Andersen] has been there only one year.
"Whether we go around the field, or they go around the field, and our team needs to get off, or we sing the song and get off -- the administrations know we need to handle it in a different way on both sides. So we’ll let them work it out, and I’m sure they’ll get it right, and then they’ll pass it along to both coaches."
GOOD NEWS ON INJURY FRONT
The Gophers knew these last two regular season games against Wisconsin and Michigan State would be physical.
Aside from some bumps and bruises, the Gophers appeared to emerge from Saturday's 20-7 loss to Wisconsin pretty healthy. Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson and Maxx Williams all were shaken up during the game but returned to play.
"For a physical football game, and the coldest football game here in a long time -- the turf was pretty much frozen -- we came out of it pretty good, really," Kill said. "... You’re going to be bruised and battered, but I think we’ll be alright this weekend."
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