Resiliency of Gophers receivers will be put to the test

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2013 - 6:57 AM

Another departure leaves the Gophers thin at wideout, but the corps is staying confident.

 

From the outside looking in, it seems as if the hits keep coming for the Gophers receiving corps. A.J. Barker quits. Andre McDonald leaves school and misses spring practice. Then on Monday, the school announces Devin Crawford-Tufts is leaving the team to focus on track and field.

But with fall camp set to open Friday, the Gophers fully expect their receivers to improve this year. Some incoming freshmen and players on the rebound — including McDonald — should give this group a big lift.

“It’s almost like playing in the NFL or the NBA, and it’s your contract year,” junior receiver Isaac Fruechte said Tuesday at the team’s preseason news conference. “We’ve got to get it done; otherwise, we’re going to be replaced.”

Fruechte caught 19 passes for 256 yards last year. Senior Derrick Engel had 18 catches for 375 yards. Those are hardly gaudy numbers, but Fruechte and Engel are the team’s leading returnees.

Sophomore KJ Maye emerged as a go-to target during spring practice, and redshirt freshman Jamel Harbison was back at full speed after tearing up his knee in last season’s first game.

That group continued working with quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner through spring practice and in 7-on-7 drills throughout the summer.

“We’ve been really trying to get on the same page,” Nelson said. “They’ve all gotten bigger and stronger and faster, and I have a lot of confidence in them to be able to do their jobs.”

Crawford-Tufts lined up with the starting unit for much of spring practice after catching 16 passes for 189 yards last year. But by this summer, it was clear his heart was with the track team.

“I’ve got a good relationship with Devin,” coach Jerry Kill said. “I knew that might happen, so we’ve kind of prepared for it.”

McDonald’s re-emergence is as big as any development for the Gophers. The highly touted recruit from Hopkins caught only 10 passes for 121 yards last year and missed the bowl game because of a violation of team rules. He missed spring semester while dealing with a personal issue but is catching up with summer school.

“I think he’s definitely changed,” Fruechte said. “He’s working hard, and he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing, school-wise, everything. I think that’s because everybody around him is trying to help, but he’s more willing to get help.”

Beyond the returnees, four freshmen could see time at receiver, as well. The 6-3 Drew Wolitarsky set California receiving records at Canyon Country High School. The 5-11 Eric Carter caught 10 touchdown passes for a Lakeland (Fla.) High School team that went 10-0 during the regular season.

Donovahn Jones and Chris Streveler both were recruited as quarterbacks, but Kill has said both will get reps at receiver during camp. Jones recently showed off a 40-inch vertical jump. Streveler has grown from 205 pounds to about 218 since enrolling in January.

“I think we’re as good as anybody,” Fruechte said of the receiving corps. “I think we’re going to be kind of unknown and hopefully a shock to the Big Ten, where people go, ‘Shoot, we’ve got to guard these guys.’ ”

Etc.

• Kill would prefer not to keep flipping quarterbacks, but with Nelson starting, the Gophers will be eager to get Leidner’s feet wet, too. “You don’t want your starter getting hit all the time,” Kill said. “So if there’s a chance that you can sprinkle somebody in there, that helps you later on down the road.”

• Offensive tackle Jonah Pirsig (knee surgery) is the team’s biggest remaining question mark health-wise, Kill said. Pirsig might have to work some individual drills before he’ll be ready to go full speed.

• Two players coming off reconstructive knee surgery — defensive lineman Roland Johnson and linebacker Chris Wipson — have been cleared to practice Friday.

• The starting middle linebacker job remains a battle between freshman Jack Lynn and junior college transfer Damien Wilson. “I thought Damien and Jack Lynn were neck-and-neck for the spring,” Kill said.

  • related content

  • Video: Gophers football coach, players raring to go

    Tuesday July 30, 2013

    Gophers football coach Jerry Kill held a news conference Tuesday to preview fall camp, which starts Friday.

  • Gophers football update: Injuries and the middle linebacker battle

    Tuesday July 30, 2013

    Gophers coach Jerry Kill gave an overview of the team Tuesday, with the first preseason practice scheduled for Friday.

  • Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson will throw to a receiving group whose top returnee had 19 catches in 2012.

  • Gophers coach Jerry Kill was jovial during Tuesday’s news conference previewing Friday’s start of fall camp. The Gophers open the season Aug. 29 against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis - LP: K. Siegrist 6 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 7
Toronto - LP: M. Buehrle 4 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: H. Kuroda 6
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 9
Washington - WP: T. Roark 4 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 1
Boston - LP: J. Tazawa 4 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Price 6
San Diego - WP: J. Hahn 5 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Wood 2
Oakland - LP: J. Hammel 1 FINAL
Texas - WP: J. Williams 4
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 3 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: F. Rodriguez 2
Miami - WP: B. Hand 2 FINAL
Houston - LP: D. Keuchel 0
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 9 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: K. Correia 5
Cleveland - LP: C. Carrasco 4 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: K. Herrera 6
Pittsburgh - LP: C. Morton 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: B. Anderson 8
Detroit - LP: D. Smyly 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: M. Morin 2
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 2 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Furbush 1
Los Angeles - WP: Z. Greinke 8 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Lincecum 1
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Colorado 3
Calgary 26 FINAL
Edmonton 22
Winnipeg 23 FINAL
Brt Columbia 6
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Winnipeg 7/31/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 8/1/14 6:00 PM
Montreal
Brt Columbia 8/1/14 9:00 PM
Calgary
Saskatchewan 8/2/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Tulsa 77 FINAL
Washington 82
Chicago 79 FINAL
Atlanta 75
San Antonio 78 FINAL
Minnesota 88
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which upcoming event are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close