Gophers receivers embrace their role in running game

  • Article by: BRANDON C. WILLIAMS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2013 - 10:51 PM

– On the surface, Isaac Fruechte’s numbers (10 receptions, 113 yards, no touchdowns) would make it seem as if he was just a minor contributor to the Gophers’ season.

That would be a mistake. Fruechte has been a key member of the offense, serving primarily as an extra blocker who has opened more than his share of holes for David Cobb, Donnell Kirkwood and Philip Nelson.

In fact, the junior from Caledonia, Minn., who had 19 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns last year, is regarded as the team’s best blocking receiver.

“We’re all pretty good blockers,” said Fruechte, quick to shy away from the honor. “It’s something we enjoy doing to help the team win.”

At 6-foot-3 and 204 pounds, Fruechte is one of a host of big Gophers wideouts whose build makes them appear like an extra pair of tight ends lined up outside.

Like most of his fellow receivers, Fruechte had to adapt from being a featured player in high school to learning to contribute in college even though passes are thrown in his direction infrequently.

“The biggest challenge was getting my body physically ready,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to take some hits and be able to give some hits, especially playing in the Big Ten [where] you’re going to hit some big people.

“We take a sense of pride with it going in, knowing that in order for us to have a good rushing day, David and Donnell have to rely on us a bit to make some good blocks and key plays in the running game. We feel good about that, and we’re confident going into the game with it.”

Nelson confident in line

Sophomore quarterback Nelson believes the offensive line has jelled after injuries plagued the unit down the stretch of the regular season.

“It took a little bit to get into the flow and get together, but I think Foster [Bush] did a great job, and the same thing with Tommy [Olson],” Nelson said. “They did a great job of stepping up. Right away, they picked it real fast and have done a great job since.”

Better blocking

The receivers aren’t the only ones who have worked at their blocking. Gophers coach Jerry Kill had high praise for the work his running backs have done in pass protection.

“They’ve done it,” Kill said after Tuesday’s practice. “Pass protection is critical, and it’s going to be critical in this game because they are going to bring it. David Cobb has been really good at it. He really has. I think Kirkwood has always done a pretty good job of it.”

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