Switch to receiver moves Gray back to the future

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2012 - 11:53 AM

Before arriving at the U, he'd always played quarterback but he's game to play anywhere. NFL scouts believe his future is at receiver.

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Gophers receiver MarQueis Gray hauled in a pass beating Badgers defender Devin Smith (10) in first half action on Saturday. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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MarQueis Gray returned to the practice field as a full-time wide receiver on Wednesday after three days off to rest his sore left leg, and his coach was encouraged by his play. "I thought he moved much better than he did last week," Gophers' coach Jerry Kill said. "Having Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, he didn't seem to be quite as gimped up."

His physical condition remains a bit of a question for Saturday's game against Purdue. Gray's mental state, after ceding his starting-quarterback role to freshman Philip Nelson, has never been in question.

"The thing I love about MarQueis is, and he says it all the time: 'Hey, whatever I can do to help this team win,' " offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.

"He just wants to play -- that's been a real nice bonus. He hasn't been sulking around. He's been great with Philip, great with Max [Shortell]."

That's not to say Gray welcomed the switch. He's just mature enough, two weeks short of his 22nd birthday and seven weeks shy of his wedding day, to accept the reality of his situation, that the Gophers could no longer count on him being healthy enough to quarterback.

"Just realizing there are people out there in the world going though more than what I am -- that's one of the main reasons I keep my head up," Gray said. "I come though here, [then] go home to my kids. There are plenty of ways to keep my head up."

One of them is to help the Gophers turn their season around by catching a few passes. Another is to act as an informal tutor to Nelson.

"I just keep building his confidence in the huddle, on the sidelines. [And] catching everything that comes my way," Gray said. "I'm trying to be in his head about how this game is slower than most people may think it is. He's the leader of this offense now, he has the keys to the car. So just being out there and encouraging him is the best thing I can do."

Except for his first two seasons at Minnesota, Gray had never played any position but quarterback, going all the way back to pee-wee football in Indiana. So it's not easy to give up, even though he understands that NFL scouts believe his future is at receiver.

Not that he's thinking about that yet.

"I really don't know what to do [to prepare]. I never really thought of myself as going to the next level playing receiver," Gray said. "But I've had so many people telling me that that's what the scouts have been coming in and saying."

He wouldn't mind taking a few more snaps, but understands he's not likely to be the starter anymore.

"I love having the ball in my hands, every play. If I get a chance to go back, to make some plays, even as a wildcat, I'd be happy," he said.

Until then, he's trying to re-familiarize himself with his former position. The catching part, he feels pretty good about.

"The hardest thing is blocking. I'm a big guy out there, and those little corners are shifty," he said. "The main thing is getting my pads low and dropping down to their level to get my hands on them. Other than that, it's just run and catch the ball."

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