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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DeLeon Eskridge, Minnesota's leading rusher last season, will not return to the Gophers for his senior season.
The 21-year-old running back, who gained 698 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground last season, both tops on the Gophers, has been granted a release from his scholarship, the university announced Friday. Eskridge asked for his release in order to deal with a family situation and intends to transfer to a school closer to his San Francisco home.
"He and I both felt it was in his best interest to make this decision," coach Jerry Kill said.
In addition to Eskridge's departure, the Gophers announced that backup tight end Tiree Eure will also leave the team, and that two new recruits -- wide receiver Malcolm Moulton from Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College, and quarterback Dexter Foreman of Manvel (Texas) High, have been added for this fall's squad.
Eskridge's departure leaves the Gophers' backfield with one other senior, Duane Bennett, who shared the position with Eskridge last season and gained 529 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition, Minnesota has three redshirt freshmen at the position: Donnell Kirkwood, who gained 107 yards in four games before a leg injury ended his season; LaMonte Edwards, from Woodbury High; and Devon Wright, a Floridan who intends to regain his academic eligibility by fall camp.
With that depth, plus the running ability of quarterback MarQueis Gray, should allow the Gophers to absorb the loss of Eskridge, who finishes his Minnesota career with 1,706 yards in 451 carries over three seasons, an average of 3.78 yards per carry, and 46.1 yards per game. Eskridge, who also led the Gophers in rushing in 2008 as a freshman, scored 17 career touchdowns.
Eure, a senior who transferred from Lackawanna College and served as backup to Eric Lair at tight end, caught three passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in his lone season with the Gophers. No reason was given for his departure. "Things just didn't work out for Tiree," Kill said.
Foreman and especially Moulton will add depth to positions that need it, according to Kill. "After spring ball, we felt we had an issue with depth at the receiver position," the coach said, so he used his Kansas juco connections to recruit Moulton. The Gwinnett, Ga., native caught 44 passes for 714 yards and five touchdowns at Fort Scott last season, and will have three seasons of eligibility with the Gophers.
Foreman passed for more than 3,000 career yards and 30 touchdowns at Manvel High, and last season rushed for 402 yards as well. He completed 90 of 142 passes as a senior, with 10 touchdowns, five interceptions and 1,198 yards.
"We'd like to create some more competition at quarterback," Kill said.
The Gophers' receiving corps, already thin because MarQueis Gray is moving to quarterback next season, officially became even thinner on Tuesday when Bryant Allen transferred to Illinois State.
Allen caught 16 passes last season, and scored an 11-yard touchdown in Tim Brewster's last game, a 28-17 loss at Purdue. He was Minnesota's fifth-leading receiver, and his departure, along with Gray's position change, means that Da'Jon McKnight is the only returning receiver who caught more than one pass last season.
By transferring to a FCS team, Allen will not have to sit out a season.
"Bryant was someone I had my eye on when I first took over the program," Redbirds coach Brock Spack said in a statement released by Illinois State. "He's a real dynamic athlete and a potential next-level kick and punt returner."
Allen, who played nine games for the Gophers' basketball team last season, intends to play both sports for ISU, too, and has already begun working out with the Redbirds.
Troy Stoudermire has been restored to the Gophers' roster, but he's not a wide receiver anymore.
Tim Brewster announced at his weekly press conference that Stoudermire, apologetic about a Facebook posting that declared his intention to quit the team, is back in uniform after a one-game suspension.
But the junior wideout, who had six catches, including a 49-yard touchdown reception, in the Gophers' first three games, has switched back to cornerback, his original position in Minnesota. According to secondary coach Ronnie Lee, "he wanted to be back there, so we welcomed him. We can use him." Stoudermire practiced for the first time at his new/old position on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Stoudermire took to the forum he made headlines with last week -- his Facebook page -- to repair the damage of his "I'm no longer a Gopher" post. The junior's current Facebook post reads, "I apologize for my actions to my teammates, fans and coaches. I deeply regret letting my emotions get the best of me. I handled this situation incorrectly and realize the consequences of my actions. We are all here for one overall goal and that is to win championships. I hope we can move on from this and I will do anything to help my team win. I am proud to be a Gopher and let's go beat Northwestern!"
The Gophers believe Ra'Shede Hageman has the potential to make an huge impact on games. They're just not certain where.
Hageman, who switched from tight end to defensive end during his redshirt season, is listed for the first time on this week's depth chart as Brandon Kirksey's backup at defensive tackle. The move inside, Brewster said, should present Hageman, an all-Metro tight end at Washburn High, more opportunities to take advantage of his size and quickness.
"We'd like to be able to create as many one-on-one matchups as we possibly can" with offensive guards, Brewster said of the 6-5, 295-pound Hageman. "We think physically he can win in a one-on-one matchup."
The change isn't necessarily permanent, Brewster said, but an adjustment to help the redshirt freshman learn more about line technique, and to see if the interior line is a better fit. Hageman has backed up freshman defensive end Matt Garin in the first two games.
"There are situations where he's still going to play defensive end. He has the ability. He keeps growing," Brewster said. "We're trying to limit what we ask of him so he can get on the field and help us."
A few surprises on the Gophers' two-deep for their season opener, starting with one that maybe shouldn't be such a shock. Ra'Shede Hageman will back up Matt Garin at defensive end, and on the surface, doesn't that seem logical? Hageman has never played defense before, so doesn't it seem like a guy who is transitioning from tight end might need to be eased in slowly?
It's a surprise, though, because coach Tim Brewster has talked up the potential of Hageman all summer, raising expectations by pointing out (as he did again Tuesday) that Hageman is the strongest player on the team.
None of that hype is false or misplaced, Brewster explained on Tuesday, and Hageman, a star tight end at Washburn High, will get plenty of playing time in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday. "I can't wait to see what an impact Ra'Shede has on the game," the coach said.
But Garin, an Apple Valley native, made a big impression in camp, too, and deserves the start. "He's a little bit ahead of Ra'Shede right now from a fundamental standpoint, from a technique standpoints," Brewster said. Reading between the lines and talking to some of the players afterward, I got the impression that Middle Tennessee State's unique offensive philosophy, using quickness to overcome their size disadvantage, may not be the best matchup for someone still as raw as Hageman. He's going to be a great one, Brewster said, but it takes time.
Kyle Theret has been suspended for the game, Brewster said, which is a continuation of the "indefinite" suspension that Brewster imposed after Theret's arrest last March on drunk-driving charges. But the coach has also suspended offensive lineman Dom Alford for an unspecified violation of team rules, making Ed Olson the starter at left tackle. Brewster wouldn't say how long the suspensions will last, and Alford is actually listed as Olson's backup on the two-deep.
Theret's suspension and the likelihood that Kim Royston won't play -- "He's close," Brewster said, but the coach made it sound like a longshot that Royston will suit up -- means the Gophers will use 11 defenders who will be making their first collegiate start.
Jon Hoese's status remains uncertain as well; Brewster reiterated that he supports any decision Hoese makes. The senior fullback's father Terry suffered a stroke last Thursday and remains critically ill.
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