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.
Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell will announce his college decision Wednesday morning on ESPN, and according to 247Sports.com, the five finalists are Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.
Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan said in an e-mail that Cornell will announce his decision at the high school at 9 a.m. Cornell and Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard will be making their announcements at the same time, and much of the speculation has them choosing Ohio State.
ESPN had Cornell ranked as the nation's No. 1 player in the 2015 class last year and has since lowered him to No. 16. The 6-3, 265-pound Cornell is a consensus four-star recruit. The Gophers were one of the first teams to offer Cornell a scholarship, but their hopes of landing him haven't been high for months.
I caught up today with Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Here are a few tidbits:
* CB Derrick Wells, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, is getting back to full strength. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun was back to full speed from his knee surgery by the end of spring practice.
“You’re taking a secondary that played well a year ago, and we’ve got the core back,” Claeys said, referring to a unit that lost Brock Vereen but returns Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis, among others. “And then you’re adding Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy to it. It’s by far as deep and as good as we’ve been, with kids who’ve proven they can play at the Big Ten level.”
* DE Hank Ekpe missed most of spring practice because of a virus, but he’s fully recovered and has his weight back to 250 pounds.
* LB De’Vondre Campbell weighed in at 238 pounds this morning. The weights were just updated on the roster, but those were from the end of spring practice. Campbell was listed at 226 then, but the 6-5 specimen has really bulked up in recent weeks.
“The funny thing is he doesn’t look as long, like a spider anymore because he’s put on some weight,” Claeys said. “He really looks good.”
* Middle linebacker Damien Wilson was asked to shed weight, and he’s down from 254 to 245.
* And Jack Lynn, the other projected starting linebacker, who came to campus at 220 pounds, is pushing 240.
The Gophers ranked 25th in the country in points allowed last year (22.2) after ranking 45th (24.7) the previous year. Now they have to replace five defensive starters, including Vereen and fellow NFL pick Ra’Shede Hageman.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play better this year again,” Claeys said. “We’re going to have more kids this year than ever who are going to play who’ve already got two years or more of experience. So the depth is going to be there, and we’re getting better athletically.”
Owen Salzwedel, a redshirt freshman defensive end for the Gophers, has left the program and plans to transfer closer to his home in Beaver Dam, Wis.
The 6-6, 240-pound Salzwedel came to Minnesota as a consensus three-star recruit after making 24 sacks in his final two seasons at Beaver Dam High School. News of his transfer was first reported by Ryan Burns, of GopherIllustrated.com.
The Gophers landed their fifth recruit for the 2015 class Tuesday, when Red Wing lineman Nick Connelly gave a verbal commitment during an unofficial recruiting visit to campus, the Star Tribune has confirmed.
The 6-6, 270-pound Connelly plays both offensive tackle and defensive end and is a consensus three-star recruit. He had reported offers from Wyoming, Illinois State and Montana State.
The Gophers have commitments from two other offensive linemen for 2015 in Bronson Dovich (Chaska) and Ted Stieber (Akron, Ohio).
I'm back from a week of vacation. Here's a few quick updates:
* Searching for a fullback to replace departing senior Mike Henry, the Gophers convinced two players from Butler (Kan.) Community College to walk-on this spring. But one of those fullbacks has since left the program. Riley Oharah went through spring practice and gave it a shot but won't be coming back this fall. The 5-11, 236-pound Miles Thomas remains in the fold after a solid spring camp. As I wrote here, the fullback spot became a big hole last winter.
* An updated look at the roster shows a few number changes. LB De'Niro Laster will wear No. 1, CB Derrick Wells will wear No. 3, and DE Alex Keith will wear No. 9. Also, interesting to see some of the incoming freshmen numbers. DE Gary Moore is No. 19 -- I didn't expect to see that. (UPDATE: I just got a heads up that Moore picked that number because the day his father died was the 19th of that month.) The coaches have referred to Moore as "Baby Ra'Shede." Mr. Hageman wore No. 99, of course. That number will now belong to DE Andrew Stelter, another incoming freshman from Owatonna.
WR Melvin Holland Jr., plucked No. 21, which had been RB Jeff Jones' number at Minneapolis Washburn. Jones has No. 16 and is waiting to hear if he got the qualifying score he needed on the June 14 ACT exam. The scores are usually available 2-2 1/2 weeks after the exams are taken.
* Also, as Sid noted in last Friday's column, the Gophers received their fourth commitment for 2015 -- offensive tackle Ted Stieber, from Akron, Ohio. The 6-6, 295-pound Stieber is a consensus three-star recruit. He has family members who went to the University and still live here. "I've always liked Minnesota," Stieber told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When I had the opportunity to play football there, it was a no-brainer for me.”
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