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 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.”
The Gophers recruited Donovahn Jones as a quarterback, knowing he was so athletic, they'd be tempted to play him at wide receiver as a true freshman.
Sure enough, Jones has been practicing at receiver, in addition to quarterback, ever since Saturday's scrimmage.
"He’s just a good athlete, and we’re coaching him a little bit different than everybody else, trying to get him to learn two positions," Coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday.
With Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner entrenched at the top two quarterback spots, Jones came to camp battling Chris Streveler, another true freshman, for the No. 3 spot.
Streveler was another candidate to move to receiver, but for now, he's sticking to full-time quarterback duties. He had the benefit of enrolling in January and going through spring practice with the Gophers.
"He’s doing some more things at quarterback because he’s further along on the learning curve," Kill said.
Studying Minnesota's schedule for his Best Case/Worst Case series, Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart sees a best case of 8-4 and a worst case or 4-8.
In the best case scenario, he sees them defeating Iowa to move to 5-0 before withstanding losses to Michigan (home), Northwestern (away) and Nebraska (home) -- and then winning the next three games against Indiana (away), Penn State (home) and Wisconsin (home).
In the worst case, he sees San Jose State winning at TCF Bank Stadium. Then he sees the Gophers defeating Iowa before finishing the season on a seven-game skid.
I predicted a 7-5 finish in my StarTribune.com interview with Vineeta Sawkar last week. I didn't specify how the Gophers would get there, but I'm predicting a 4-0 non-conference mark and 3-5 Big Ten mark, with the wins over Iowa, Indiana and Penn State.
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