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 Gophers preseason practice

Gophers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell bulks up to 240 pounds -- or 239.7, to be exact

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 5, 2014 - 9:13 PM

Gophers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was a 6-5, 210-pound string bean when he was playing at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College two years ago. He played at about 220 pounds last year in his first Big Ten season.

Today, he said, he weighed in at 239.7 pounds.

"I lost about a pound, but I’m trying to get back up to where I was," the junior from Fort Myers, Fla., said. "I think my highest [weight] over the summer was 243. I’m trying to stay up, you know. I gained about 20 pounds from last fall. I’m just trying to keep it up there, so I can become a better player."

Campbell made 41 tackles in 13 games last year and started three times but wound up sharing time with James Manuel, who has since graduated. This year, he's expected to become an every down player, alongside senior middle linebacker Damien Wilson.

"I feel a lot more comfortable because last year I was a lot more timid," Campbell said. "Because of my weight, I wasn’t comfortable playing at that weight. But now that I’ve got my weight up, I can actually play how I want to play, be more of a downhill player, taking on fullbacks, linemen."

Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys added: "I think the strength part of it is what’s helped him the most. He’s so much stronger."

Gophers tight end Duke Anyanwu suffers apparent right knee injury

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: August 2, 2014 - 1:53 PM

Gophers tight end Duke Anyanwu suffered an apparent right knee injury Saturday in the team’s second practice.

Anyanwu went over the middle in an 11-on-11 drill and fell to the ground, trying to catch a pass from Chris Streveler. Anyanwu was in obvious pain and had to be helped off the field by the team’s trainers.

Coach Jerry Kill declined to comment on the injury but said of Anyanwu, “Great kid. Ain’t none better than Duke. Great kid.”

Anyanwu played quarterback at Blaine High School and converted to tight end with the Gophers. He torn an ACL during captain’s practice in 2012 – not sure if it was the same knee – and took that year as a redshirt. UPDATE: I'm told it was his other knee that time, so that's definitely good news.

Anyanwu broke a forearm during spring practice in 2013 and was limited to one game, on special teams, last fall. But Kill called Anyanwu one of the team’s most improved players this year during spring practice.

Anyanwu led the team with three receptions in the spring game, and quarterback Mitch Leidner raved about the speed Anyanwu has shown during summer workouts. Leidner and other players looked visibly shaken watching Anyanwu being taken off the field today.

Kill's wife, Rebecca, was among those who went over to comfort Anyanwu through his dismay.

As written here for today's editions, the Gophers have a plethora of tight end options, but Anyanwu will definitely be missed if he's out for an extended time.

Gophers update practice schedule; slight change for fans looking to come watch

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 31, 2014 - 10:37 AM

The Gophers modified their practice schedule today. Originally, practices this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were going to be open to the public, but now the three open to the public will be Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Aug. 9 scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium remains open to the public.

Here's the full practice schedule (subject to change, of course):

Aug. 1, 5:15 PM - Practice #1, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Media
Aug. 2, 10:25 AM - Practice #2, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Media
Aug. 3, 10:25 AM - Practice #3, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Media
Aug. 4, 5:15 PM - Practice #4, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media  
Aug. 5, 5:15 PM - Practice #5, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media  
Aug. 6, 5:15 PM - Practice #6, Gibson-Nagurski Complex, Open to Public/Media   
Aug. 7. 5:15 PM - Practice #7
Aug. 8, 5:15 PM - Practice #8
Aug. 9, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM - Practice #9/#10, Gibson-Nagurski /TCF Bank Stadium, #10 Open to Public/Media
Aug. 10 - No practice
Aug. 11, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM - Practice #11/#12
Aug. 12, 10:25 AM - Practice #13  
Aug. 13, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM - Practice #14/#15
Aug. 14, 10:25 AM - Practice #16
Aug. 15, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM - Practice #17/#18
Aug. 16, 6:07 PM - Practice #19
Aug. 17 - No practice
Aug. 18 - No practice
Aug. 19, 9:10 AM/4:40 PM - Practice #20/#21
Aug. 20, 10:25 AM - Practice #22  
Aug. 21, 10:25 AM - Practice #23  
Aug. 22 - No practice
Aug. 23, 3:40 PM - Practice #24  
Aug. 24, 3:40 PM - Practice #25  
Aug. 25, 3:40 PM - Practice #26  
Aug. 26, 3:40 PM - Practice #27  
Aug. 27 - No practice
Aug. 28 - Game vs. Eastern Illinois at 6 PM CT

Gophers updates: Maxx Williams, Kirkwood, Elmore, Gibson, Poock, Krizancic, Wells, Holland, etc.

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 29, 2014 - 12:36 PM

CHICAGO -- It was a newsy day for the Gophers here at Big Ten Media Days, as Coach Jerry Kill mentioned several items of note. A quick recap, as the team gets ready to start practicing Friday:

* TE Maxx Williams (knee) is back to full speed. In fact, quarterback Mitch Leidner said Williams and fellow tight end Duke Anyanwu have posted running speeds as quick as anybody on the team, including the wide receivers and defensive backs. Scary.

* Kill said incoming freshmen tight ends Gaelin Elmore and Jerry Gibson are both candidates to play immediately at the H-back position. Mike Henry played there last year at 5-11, 230 pounds. Elmore is 6-6, 260 pounds, and Gibson is 6-3, 230. They’ll probably start out at tight end – Gibson actually might line up at wide receiver – but the Gophers will look for ways to get them on the field, too.

* RB Donnell Kirkwood had surgery earlier this summer (not sure what the injury was) but is working his way back to full speed. “He hasn’t been the same, but he feels good now,” Kill said.

* DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun is fully recovered from his ACL injury. He looked terrific by the end of spring practice.

* DB Derrick Wells (shoulder surgery) missed spring practice but is back to 100 percent. “He may be as healthy as he’s been,” Kill said.

* WR Connor Krizancic has a hamstring injury. Kill said his status for the start of camp is uncertain.

* Melvin Holland Jr. is the most advanced of the incoming freshmen receivers, Leidner said.

* LB Cody Poock had surgery to repair a torn ACL in March, but believe it or not, Kill said the coaches are considering clearing him for practice. Kill said a decision will be made Thursday.

“If he can come in and do pass shell and non-contact, we’ll probably bring him in,” Kill said. “Is he going to be guaranteed to be ready to be able to play by the Big Ten schedule? I don’t know. I know that’s his goal. But if we get into that thing, and he’s not 100 percent, we will not play him, because he can get another year [of eligibility].”

* The Gophers gave offensive lineman Jon Christenson some time off recently, hoping to get him in good shape for the start of fall camp. Christenson, a starting center last year who is coming off a broken leg injury, could move to guard.

* Kill injured an hamstring doing up-downs (a conditioning drill) about 10 days ago and is walking with a limp. But as for his epilepsy, things sound great.

“I trained hard in the offseason, too,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of walking. I dropped about 12-13 pounds, quit drinking Coke and Diet Coke. I’m drinking water. All the things that can help bring on [seizure] situations, I’ve made sure I addressed.”

Writers pick Gophers to finish fifth in Big Ten West, behind Northwestern

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: July 25, 2014 - 1:04 PM

The Gophers are headed for a fifth-place finish this year in the Big Ten West, behind Northwestern, according to a poll of 29 writers conducted by Cleveland.com.

The same poll predicted the Gophers would finish last in the Legends Division last year, and the Gophers responded with a 4-4 conference record, finishing ahead of Michigan (3-5) and Northwestern (1-7).

Heading into their fourth year under Coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers need to replace NFL draft picks Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, along with quarterback Philip Nelson and leading receiver Derrick Engel. But overall, it’s an older team that expects to take another step forward this year.

The Big Ten scrapped its Legends and Leaders format and adopted East and West divisions with Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference this year. The Big Ten does not conduct its own media poll, so Cleveland.com has been putting this together for four years. I’m one of the voters and had the Gophers finishing fourth in the West, ahead of Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.

Here’s the predicted order of finish -- note there were more than 29 first-place votes in each division because of predicted ties:

WEST

1. Wisconsin, 183.5 points (15 first-place votes)

2. Iowa, 173 points (11)

3. Nebraska, 157.5 points (5)

4. Northwestern, 112 points (1)

5. Minnesota, 96.5 points

6. Illinois, 58 points

7. Purdue, 31.5 points

EAST

1. Ohio State, 195 points (23 first-place votes)

2. Michigan State, 180 points (10)

3. Michigan, 136 points

4. Penn State, 105.5 points

5. Maryland, 84 points

6. Indiana, 78.5 points

7. Rutgers, 33 points

Big Ten title game matchup predictions

Ohio State over Wisconsin, 12 votes

Michigan State over Iowa, 5

Ohio State over Iowa, 4

Ohio State over Nebraska, 3

Michigan State over Wisconsin, 2

Michigan State over Nebraska, 1

Michigan State over Northwestern, 1

Nebraska over Ohio State, 1

Preseason vote for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (13)

2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (10)

3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (4)

4. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)

4. Jake Ryan, Michigan (1)

Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (21)

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (5)

3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (2)

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB (1)

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