The Gophers football team hopes to preserve the redshirt status of their freshmen offensive and defensive linemen, coach Jerry Kill said Saturday, but that's not possible at other positions. Which means Jamel Harbison and possibly Andre McDonald will be catching passes this season.
At least eight true freshmen, including the Gophers' highly prized teenage wide receivers, will make the trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday, Kill said, and at least six of them are likely to play.
"We just don't have the depth" at skill positions to sideline their newest players, the coach said. "Shoot, I'd redshirt them all if I could. But I think you saw in the spring, we thought we needed some playmakers."
Also headed to UNLV for their first collegiate game are quarterback Philip Nelson, running back K.J. Maye, defensive end Scott Epke and defensive backs Eric Murray, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis. All will be available to their normal positions, and a couple will play special teams as well.
If all eight true freshmen got in against UNLV, it would match the eight the Gophers had to use last season, though that's not likely. Nelson will travel as an emergency QB, Kill said. The status of Epke, McDonald and Maye will be determined this week.
The Gophers intend to preserve a year of eligibility for some of the most highly touted February recruits, such as Nelson and fellow quarterback Mitch Leidner, offensive linemen Isaac Hayes and Jonah Pirsig and tailback Rodrick Williams.
Harbison and McDonald made some electrifying plays in fall camp. Considering that receiver is one of the Gophers' thinnest positions, it seemed evident since camp opened a month ago that Kill would not have the luxury of sitting them out for a year. Sure enough, he said Harbison will "certainly" play and McDonald will be in the 70-player traveling party, with a decision on playing time to be decided this week -- or even during the game.
"He had an outstanding camp, and he can go get a football," Kill said of Harbison.
Harbison has looked like a veteran since he arrived, quarterback MarQueis Gray said. "Jamel knows what he's supposed to do, and he makes sure the other receivers line up right, too," Gray said. "It's one of those leadership [responsibilities] he's starting to take on at an early age."
Offensive line decision
Kill said there is one more decision to be made on the offensive line, where Ed and Tommy Olson will play left tackle and left guard and Josh Campion will handle right tackle. Coaches are still trying to decide whether the Gophers are stronger with Zach Mottla at center and Zac Epping at right guard, or Epping at center and Foster Bush at right guard.
The Gophers also aren't saying who their starting tailback will be, and it seems to be because they don't know. Kill had the running backs spend 15 minutes Saturday working on picking up blitzes. He mentioned Donnell Kirkwood, James Gillum, Devon Wright and Maye as possibilities.