With receiver at quarterback, Gophers move QB to wideout

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2011 - 12:49 AM

Jerry Kill and his staff like J.D. Pride's talent, just not under center. So the former signal-caller is the new man in the slot.

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J.D. Pride (from left, with former Cretin-Derham Hall teammates Michael Floyd and Cameron Clarkson in 2007)

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune 2007

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J.D. Pride stayed late after practice Tuesday, working on some pass routes with his position coach as he has done several times before.

Except one thing was different: Pride was running the routes, not throwing the ball.

That's right. If the Gophers can turn wide receiver MarQueis Gray into a quarterback, they believe they can reverse the process, too. Pride, the newest Gophers slot receiver, is about to find out whether it can be done.

"Coach [Jerry] Kill came to me and said, 'I think you can help the offense more as a receiver,' " Pride said after his first practice at a position he has never played. "I'm real excited. I just love football in general, and I want to do anything to play."

And that includes giving up the position he's played his whole life, a move that wasn't easy. Pride quarterbacked Totino-Grace's Class 4A state championship team in 2009 and accepted a scholarship at Minnesota in hopes of competing with Gray to take snaps for the Gophers.

But Gray appears to have solidified his hold on the job this spring, and Tom Parish and Moses Alipate are fighting for the No. 2 job. Meanwhile, the Gophers have only a half-dozen healthy receivers.

"J.D. wasn't picking up what we need at quarterback as much as the other guys. But he's a really good athlete," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "So rather than having him standing back there just hanging around, Coach felt we could fill a need and give him an opportunity to get on the field sooner. It doesn't make sense to stand as a 4 or 5 at one spot when we barely have 2's at another."

Now the hard part: Learning a new position. His quarterbacking background means he has a grasp of the various pass routes, but Pride learned quickly that there's a lot more to the job than lining up and running around.

"There's alignment -- top of the numbers, bottom of the numbers. How far [to stand] off the hash. Who to block on running plays, safety or corner," said Pride, the 19-year-old cousin of Dallas running back and Gophers product Marion Barber. "Today was my first practice. It was kind of fast-paced. I'm going to have to spend some extra time on my own."

"Coach [Pat] Poore will get him up to speed as fast as he can with some of the intricacies," Limegrover said. "Then it's entirely up to him where he fits in and how much he'll play."

Oh, and whether he can catch. That won't be a problem, Pride said. "I'm pretty decent at catching. I don't think I dropped more than one or two today," he said.

But what about when cornerbacks close in? "I'm definitely prepared. Contact is one thing I'm not afraid of," he said. "I'll catch it over the middle or wherever I can get the ball."

Note

• Da'Jon McKnight, the Gophers' leading receiver last season, injured his left knee early in Tuesday's practice. The injury didn't appear serious -- McKnight stayed on the field and watched the rest of the workout with ice on his knee -- but Kill said the team wouldn't know anything until an exam by doctors.

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