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.
The Gophers will begin practice two weeks from today feeling very good about their offensive line. Ed Olson has graduated, after splitting left-tackle duties with freshman All-American Ben Lauer, and right guard Caleb Bak had to retire because of concussion issues. But a ton of experience returns, along with some talented underclassmen.
Right now, here's my projection for the starting offensive line:
LT Ben Lauer 6-7, 315, 4 career starts
LG Zac Epping 6-2, 318, 34 career starts
C Tommy Olson 6-4, 306, 13 career starts
RG Josh Campion 6-5, 315, 26 career starts
RT Jonah Pirsig 6-9, 320, 0 career starts
Knee and wrist injuries have slowed Pirsig's development a bit, but even with a cast on his wrist during spring practice, the Blue Earth, Minn., native had clearly become a force. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who also coaches the offensive line, said in April that if Pirsig kept progressing, he could start at right tackle, with Campion moving to right guard.
Campion has started 26 consecutive games at right tackle, but there is an opening at right guard with Bak's retirement. Foster Bush [6-5, 304, 4 career starts] filled in admirably for Bak late last season, but there has been an assumption -- from outside the team anyway -- that Bush would be replaced this fall.
But in an interview this week, Limegrover kept several options open. Asked if Campion would be playing tackle or guard when practice begins Aug. 1, Limegrover said, "Yes."
"He’s been working at guard and working at tackle," Limegrover said. "Foster Bush has had a great offseason. This is the first extended period of time where he’s been healthy, been able to get in the weight room, and he’s more explosive than he’s ever been.
"And I think he’s no dummy. He’s looking around going, 'OK, this is my opportunity. I can either just be a guy or I can lay my claim.'
"[Campion] is at a point where, I don’t want to say he’s getting bored palying tackle because he can always get better. But he’s the kind of kid who loves the game. So if there’s additional time he can put in, he’s going to do it and get better at guard.
"You’ve got the young pup from Blue Earth [Pirsig], who’s hungry, who wants to do it. Jon Christenson [6-4, 298, 15 career starts] coming back [from his broken leg], doing a great job. I don’t know when he’ll be ready. I talked to him and said, 'You don’t have to be ready to win us a football game on Aug. 1. We’ll get you back there when you’re ready.' But he’s a smart kid, an experienced kid, a kid who’s worked his tail off. He’ll find a way to be a factor there.
"So a lot of those guys are doing a great job."
Gophers senior David Cobb was among 53 running backs named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list Thursday.
The Doak Walker Award is given annually to the nation's top running back. Cobb had a breakout season last year as a junior, rushing for 1,202 yards, the highest total for a Gopher since Amir Pinnix rushed for 1,272 in 2006.
Other Big Ten running backs who made this year's watch list include Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Illinois' Josh Ferguson and the Penn State duo of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak.
The Gophers announced Wednesday that their kickoff time against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 6 will be at 2:30 p.m. Middle Tennessee, from Conference USA, went 8-5 last season with a loss to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The game times for five of the first eight Gophers games are now set:
Aug. 28: Eastern Illinois (Home) 6 p.m., Big Ten Network
Sept. 6: Middle Tennessee (Home) 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Sept. 13: TCU (Away) 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Sept. 20: San Jose State (Home) TBA
Sept. 27: Michigan (Away) TBA
Oct. 11: Northwestern (Home) TBA
Oct. 18: Purdue (Home) 11 a.m., TV TBA
Oct. 25: Illinois (Away) 11 a.m., TV TBA
Nov. 8: Iowa (Home) TBA
Nov. 15: Ohio State (Home) TBA
Nov. 22: Nebraska (Away) TBA
Nov. 29: Wisconsin (Away) TBA
It says something about a player's stature with his team when he gets picked to attend the conference's media festivities. That's why it's worth noting that the Gophers will send Mitch Leidner, David Cobb and Cedric Thompson to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, July 28-29.
That gives Minnesota three team leaders with three unique stories.
Leidner is a redshirt-sophomore and the clear starter at quarterback. (Here's a link to a profile I did on him last October, noting how the Gophers recruited him -- as a tight end.)
Cobb is heading into his senior season after rushing for 1,202 yards last year and becoming the first Gopher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2006. (Here's a story on how Cobb persevered despite limited carries as a freshman and sophomore.)
And Thompson is also heading into his senior season at safety, after leading the team with 79 tackles last year. (Here's Thompson's story, which is as interesting as anything I've come across in sports.)
Here's the full list of Big Ten players heading to Chicago later this month.
Gophers junior Peter Mortell was one of 25 punters from around the country named to the Ray Guy Award Preseason Watch List on Wednesday. The Big Ten had two other punters on the list -- Ohio State's Cameron Johnston and Michigan State's Mike Sadler.
Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt last year, the third best mark in Gophers history. He had 15 punts of 50 yards or more and kept 21 inside the 20-yard line. Here's my story from April about Mortell's sense of humor and serious punting ability.
|Sports (4)||Football (12)|
|College football (574)||Bowl games (18)|
|Gopher coaches (107)||Gopher quarterbacks (77)|
|Gopher recruiting (72)||Gopher road games (23)|
|Gophers disciplinary action (13)||Gophers injuries (90)|
|Gophers on TV (11)||Gophers preseason practice (71)|
|Gophers recruiting (23)||Gophers spring football (76)|
|TCF Bank Stadium (10)||The Big 10 (68)|
|NCAA: football (10)||Gophers game day (112)|
|Gophers postgame (48)||NCAA (19)|
|Gophers awards and honors (32)||Gophers post season (11)|
|Gophers roster moves (22)||Coaching (45)|
|Gophers player capsules (13)|