One of the most impressive players through four Gophers spring football practices has been sophomore wide receiver KJ Maye.
Maye was a quarterback at Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala., and played both running back and wide receiver for the Gophers last fall as a true freshman. He played all 13 games but finished with a mere 57 yards rushing, 49 yards receiving and 178 yards on kick returns. The highlight was a 45-yard kick return against Michigan.
Now the Gophers have him focused on being a slot receiver and kick returner.
“I was kind of nervous last year, trying to get the feel of playing receiver,” Maye said after Tuesday’s practice. “Now I’ve got the feel of it, and it’s all right. It’s running pretty smooth.”
Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson continues to connect with Maye on short passes against Minnesota’s first-team defense.
“He runs great routes,” Nelson said. “He can catch the ball. He just has a little wiggle to him, that Wes Welker-type move. We like getting him out there in the slot and letting him kind of decipher the defense for himself. Once he gets the ball, he can run with it and break tackles. He’s a playmaker.”
Leidner gets a chance
Nelson continues to show poise and polish running the first-team offense, but redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner isn’t far behind.
While Nelson gained invaluable experience as a true freshman last fall, starting the final seven games, Leidner ran the scout-team offense. The week the Gophers played Nebraska, for example, Leidner was in charge of imitating Taylor Martinez.
“It feels good to be back here running our own offense and things like that,” Leidner said. “Coming in early last spring definitely helped me out. It was a struggle at times, but I was able to learn from it. And now, watching all those hours of film, it makes it that much easier out here.”
Still stuck inside
The Gophers have held all four practices indoors, but coach Jerry Kill said the team could be ready to move outside Thursday.
“It’s all about injuries,” Kill said. “If you watch the Big Ten Network, there’s somebody going down every day in spring ball. And you get one hurt now, a lot of times you don’t get him back. It’s still 30-35 [degrees], and that’s where the hamstring and groins [injuries happen]. It isn’t about being tough, it’s about the health part of it.”
Rough kicking spectacle
The Gophers worked on field goals for a few minutes Tuesday, and it wasn’t pretty.
Senior Chris Hawthorne lined up from about 40 yards and went 1-for-5. He shanked one kick wide left and had another blocked by Briean Boddy, who also blocked a field goal in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Texas Tech.
The Gophers need to replace outgoing senior Jordan Wettstein. Hawthorne is the leading in-house candidate, and there are high hopes for incoming recruit Ryan Santoso, the 6-5, 270-pounder from Pace, Fla., who kicked in the Under Armour All-America Game.