Jeff Jones has had a quiet training camp for the Gophers after looking this spring as if he could be a force, even at a new position.
Jones, a highly touted running back recruit who converted to wide receiver, missed practice Wednesday because of an unspecified injury.
He was able to watch in an orange, nonparticipation jersey, and there were no indications from the team that the injury could keep him from the Sept. 3 season opener against Texas Christian.
Still, it marks a setback for Jones in what already had been a different camp for him, compared with spring practice.
In Saturday’s scrimmage, Jones was targeted a few times but did not have a catch or a rushing attempt. This was a sharp contrast to the team’s late-spring scrimmages, when Jones emerged as a go-to target and caught nearly everything thrown his way.
Coach Jerry Kill said earlier this week that Jones has dealt with migraine issues “his whole life,” which has limited how much he can practice at times. It’s unclear if this current setback is related to migraines.
Kill has been careful not to heap expectations on Jones, noting that he’s still new to college football after being academically ineligible to play last season, coming out of Minneapolis Washburn.
“I think he’s been pretty involved [in the offense],” Kill said. “He took a ton of snaps [in the scrimmage] Saturday. You’ve got to understand, he has not played football in a while.
“But I think he’s done a good job. He had a nice practice [Monday]. He caught a couple really nice balls.”
The Gophers have kept Jones off limits for media interviews, as they do for most players who have yet to play.
But Jones still has shown his usual sunny disposition around the football complex. He has stopped to have long chats with Rebecca Kill, the coach’s wife, after multiple practices. She has taken several players under her wing over the years as a team mom.
Rivals.com ranked Jones as the nation’s seventh-best running back recruit in the 2014 class, so he arrived at Minnesota with considerable hype. As a recruit, Jones said he would be willing to play wide receiver if that gave him a quicker chance to get on the field.
The Gophers like the rest of their running back depth, but wide receiver has been a big void. After he made the switch this spring, Kill told KFAN Radio (100.3-FM) that an argument could be made that Jones was the best receiver in camp.
Now, Jones appears to be behind other receivers including KJ Maye, Drew Wolitarsky, Eric Carter and Melvin Holland Jr.
It’s also possible the Gophers have several plays for Jones that they didn’t want to unveil before closing practice to the media and public for the final two-plus weeks.
They didn’t run the jet sweep with Jones, for example, or throw him short screen passes.
“The big thing with receivers, sometimes we’re not scheming to get people the ball,” Kill said. “KJ Maye comes to practice, gets 8-9 catches, and then the next one gets 1-2, and so forth. I think [Jones has] done very good learning what to do.
“We need him in the situation he’s at now [at receiver]. Could he play running back? Yeah, but we want to get our best players on the field no matter what.”
The next step with Jones will be getting him back to full health.