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.
Gophers freshman running back Berkley Edwards suffered a high ankle sprain Wednesday and had a walking boot on his right foot Thursday. His status for next Thursday's season opener against UNLV is uncertain.
"He’s fine," Coach Jerry Kill said. "He didn’t break a leg or anything like that. He got bent up. They won’t know really until things settle down, if he’ll be ready to go or not be ready to go. But fortunately it's not a broken leg or anything of that nature."
Another concern for the Gophers is cornerback Derrick Wells. He jammed a shoulder early in camp and still has bruising in the joint. He was in an orange non-participation jersey Thursday and is questionable for the UNLV game.
Wide receiver Derrick Engel has been in a green, no-contact jersey as he recovers from a groin injury. Kill sounded confident that Engel would be ready to go full speed on Saturday. Freshman wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky has returned from his hamstring injury.
Opening Night is one week from tomorrow. Here are some quick notes from Wednesday's practice:
* WR Derrick Engel (groin injury) hasn’t been cleared for contact, but he went through some individual drills today.
* WR Drew Wolitarsky (hamstring injury) has been back at practice the past two days, but the freshman has some catching up to do.
* Asked if the game plan changes with Andre McDonald out (violation of team rules), offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, “Not really because, to be honest with you, Andre had a lot of work that he needed to do to really be a force for us. He would have had that opportunity, had he been able to stick around. But you know, we’re really starting to get comfortable with five or six [receivers], and I think those guys are feeling good.
“Other than maybe getting nicked up a little bit here or there in practice, I think we’re going to be healthy and we’re going to have a pretty good group.”
* CB Marcus Jones, who has fully recovered from a second ACL surgery in his knee, will be one of the players returning kicks and/or punts this year.
“You always go back to trust factor, and Marcus has [returned kicks] in a game,” Coach Jerry Kill said. “So I can tell you he will be a part of the mix. He’s has experience and you can’t replace experience.”
* Limegrover on reserve quarterback Chris Streveler: “It’s like that light bulb’s come on, kind of like what happened with [Philip Nelson] about Week 3 of fall camp [last year]. [Streveler] went through the spring, had his ups and downs. Early part of camp, wasn’t really feeling comfortable and all of a sudden, the light bulb went on. We’re pretty excited and pretty encouraged about Chris, especially the last four or five days.”
Gophers coach Kill confirmed after Tuesday's practice that Philip Nelson would be the starting quarterback for the Aug. 29 opener against UNLV – not that there was any doubt.
Mitch Leidner will be the primary backup, with Chris Steveler the No. 3 option and Donovahn Jones shifted to wide receiver.
“A kid I feel really good about right now is Chris Streveler,” Kill said. “[In scrimmages], he just plays, and the chains move and good things happen.”
* Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is preparing in case UNLV comes out running a no-huddle offense under first-year offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach. With all the focus on who will start at middle linebacker – Damien Wilson or Jack Lynn – Claeys intends to play two units of linebackers a lot.
“We’re not going to know [the best starters to use] until after the first game,” Claeys said. “A lot of kids can practice, and all of a sudden, they get in the game, and they don’t play very well. So we’ll have two groups ready to go.”
* Freshman linebacker De’Niro Laster returned from his knee injury Tuesday, ahead of schedule. He’ll get several reps late in camp, with the coaches strongly considering playing him this year, at least on special teams.
On Wednesday, Gophers coach Jerry Kill said the defense had made three nice interceptions in the team’s second scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium. Tonight, he expanded on that, saying two of them came from junior cornerback Briean Boddy.
“He’s had a great camp,” Kill said. “Yesterday in the scrimmage, he made big-time plays. Again it goes back to who he is. He’s a hard worker. They say he’s the best basketball player on our team.”
Boddy transferred from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College last year with three seasons of eligibility still remaining. He played in all 13 games last year, and he’ll see ample playing time at cornerback this year, especially in situations when the Gophers are using five defensive backs at the same time.
“Briean has certainly been eye-catching the way he’s been playing,” Kill said. “He’s a kid who never complains. He never comes in and gripes about his role. He doesn’t say anything. He just goes out and plays and works hard, does what he needs to do.”
And that other interception? It came from linebacker Damien Wilson. Freshman defensive back Jalen Myric made a couple nice plays, too, apparently.
The Gophers opened last Saturday’s scrimmage to the public, but today’s scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium was closed. Coach Jerry Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover met with the media afterward. Here’s what I gleaned:
* Mitch Leidner had a better day running the second team offense than he did Saturday, but Philip Nelson has separated himself as the top quarterback option.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of Mitch not progressing,” Limegrover said. “But I think really there was kind of that light bulb moment with Philip, where you could just tell there was that extra experience.
“When you get into that second week of camp, and that grind starts hitting you, I think Philip was able to really kind of jump through that burning hoop a little bit better than Mitch was. So there was some separation, and really, Philip’s done a real nice job over the course of this last week.”
* Donovahn Jones caught a deep pass at wide receiver, and Chris Streveler had a good day running the ball at quarterback. Limegrover cautioned that a decision still hasn’t been made about the No. 3 quarterback spot, indicating Jones is still very much in that mix.
* Andre McDonald also caught a deep pass. KJ Maye, Isaac Fruechte and Derrick Engel all had good days, although Engel was removed as a precaution because of tightness in his hamstring or groin. Freshman WR Drew Wolitarsky also was held out because of hamstring tightness.
* So it sounds like there were some nice catches. But as Kill said, “We caught some and ran the other way with it, too,” indicating the defense made three nice interceptions.
* Berkley Edwards got a chance to chance to work with the first-team offense. No 70-yard runs this time, but “he had some quick-burst runs,” Kill said.
* Asked about the two junior college transfers at linebacker – Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell – Kill said they were “tremendous. They’ve done a great job, both of them. That’s called getting lucky or hard work or whatever in recruiting. De’Vondre can bend and can run and is long, and it’s hard to block him. He’s very focused, doesn’t mess around, football’s important to him.
“Damien -- athletically, physically – is a very athletically gifted 250 [pounds], so they both do what you tell them to do, and one of them [Campbell] has three years [of eligibility] left; that’s even better.”
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