Do these U wideouts have the hang of it now?

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2011 - 11:29 PM

The first few days of fall practice have offered some hope that the offense's firepower might be more than expected.

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Wide receiver Brandon Green believes he is only now returning to the form that helped him catch 21 passes apiece in 2008 and 2009.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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They're not insulted, Gophers receivers say, and they're not embarrassed. Let people say, as they may have all summer, that Minnesota has only one wideout worth covering -- they've seen evidence to the contrary.

"It's not going to be just the Da'Jon McKnight Show," sophomore Victor Keise said. "We're all going to come and play our roles."

That's not how most preseason publications see it, and the fact that McKnight is the only returnee who caught more than one pass last season is a widely cited statistic. But the first few days of fall practice have offered hope that players like Keise, junior Brandon Green, freshman Marcus Jones and junior college transfers Malcolm Moulton and Ge'Shun Harris will deliver far more offensive firepower than anyone expects.

"I feel we've got a lot of talent out here. The work we put in over the summer, it's really showing," said Keise, a Florida native who caught one pass for 1 yard last year. "I'd say a good majority of us have the hang of it now."

Harris, who transferred from Arizona Western College in January, considers himself in the equation now, though he's the first to admit that wasn't the case during spring practices. There were dropped passes, bad routes and a general failure to live up to his all-league J.C. reputation.

Turns out, the step up to major college football was a lot steeper than he imagined.

"Oooo, that was a big difference from where I came from in junior college. We don't do 26 [practice] periods in a day, we probably do 13. The playbook was not even a quarter of what it is here. So it was a little tough," said Harris, a 20-year-old native of California. "It was hard catching on, getting my footwork right, learning my routes. I started real slow, but by the spring game, I was starting to feel more like myself."

That is, a pass-catcher who scored 12 touchdowns in junior college. "I worked real hard, probably gained a step or two. I put a lot of emphasis on my route-running, because that's big at this level -- separation," he said. "In J.C., all I had to do was [say], 'Throw me the ball and I'll catch it. It's nothing like that here."

No, it's a lot more physical, as Brandon Green found out the hard way. A knee injury cost him virtually the entire season last year, and the rehab was hard. Green believes he is only now returning to the form that helped him catch 21 passes apiece in 2008 and 2009. But the time off has paid an extra dividend: He's a better technical receiver now than as a freshman and sophomore.

"My route-running is a lot better. The coaches, they make sure they're perfect," said Green, a 22-year-old Chicago native.

Before, he was "leaning into the routes, having my head down when I was running. But they've really helped me stop."

Position coach Pat Poore, who noted dryly in June that "after spring ball, we felt we had an issue with depth at receiver," even sounds willing to be convinced that the shortage is a mirage.

"Are we thick in that position? No," he said. "But Malcolm Moulton has certainly added some skill to that group. Victor Keise has worked hard and he's gained some weight in the offseason. Marcus Jones is bigger and he's got some quicks to him.

"Are they better athletically than they were in the spring? At this point in practice, they are, but I'd like to see them make some plays in critical situations."

Grimm to football, too

Mike Grimm, who has provided play-by-play of Gophers basketball for five seasons, will be the voice of Gophers football as well, the university said.

Grimm, who takes over for Dave Lee as football broadcasts move to KFAN this season, will be joined by analyst Darrell Thompson, the Gophers' all-time leading rusher who has been part of broadcast team since 1998.

In addition, Justin Gaard will be the sideline reporter, Kevin Falness will host the pregame show, and Corbu Stathes will host halftime and postgame shows.

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