Wide receiver "is a critical position for us," Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said Thursday, two days before his team opens its training camp. "We need some guys that are going to be dynamic playmakers, to go up and get a ball and make a play."
MarQueis Gray believes he has found them. The senior quarterback, after a summer of throwing sessions with the roster of receivers, singled out Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald as especially promising. "I expect them to have their hands on the ball this year and make some plays for us," Gray said.
One problem: Harbison and McDonald are true freshmen. Talented as they may be, Kill and his staff must balance their inexperience -- and the lost opportunity to develop their skills for a year before using any eligibility -- with the need to provide Gray with inviting targets.
"If you want to be good down the road, you've got to redshirt some people," Kill said at his preseason news conference. "... Last year, we were in a difficult situation. This year, I think we're maybe in a little better position to redshirt some kids. We'll see."
Gray said he's seen plenty already. The freshmen "have been looking like veterans out there. They came in straight out of high school and they've been ready to go ever since," he said. "Once they get the playbook down, the sky's the limit for them. This year."
Marcus Jones caught nine passes as a true freshman last season before injuring a knee, so he knows how strong the lure of playing right away can be. "You work so hard, you want to get out there and help your team," Jones said.
Ultimately, it will be Kill's decision, and it likely hinges on the development of returnees Jones, Brandon Green and Devin Crawford-Tufts -- the latter of whom Kill said "is going to have a good year, I feel that coming on." -- and transfer Isaac Fruechte.
• Research by the Gophers sports information department has uncovered a seventh "national championship" in football. The 1904 Gophers went 13-0 and outscored their opponents (including at least one high school team) by a combined 725-12, good enough for one modern ranking service to retroactively select Minnesota as champion. No authoritative rankings existed then, so the Gophers' No. 1 ranking by Billingsley could be considered legitimate, though most historians have determined that 12-0 Penn or 10-0 Michigan likely would have been crowned.
• Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson has been bothered because of a strained hamstring, but he is expected to take part in workouts right away, Kill said.
• The Gophers' 105-man camp roster excludes a handful of scholarship players, most notably freshman Duke Anyanwu of Blaine, defensive end Quinn Bauducco, defensive end (and former Marine) Curran Delaney and sophomore offensive lineman Sean Ferguson, who played all 12 games on special teams last year.