The Gophers need better wide receiver production this year. That’s no secret, and they aren’t limiting the competition to players who have specialized at that position.
Coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday that Jeff Jones, the highly touted tailback recruit from Minneapolis Washburn, will open camp Friday at receiver. Kill said backup quarterback Chris Streveler might practice some at wideout, too.
The Jones news wasn’t surprising for anyone who watched him thrive as a slot receiver during spring practice. With Streveler, Kill made it clear that he’s still a quarterback, while noting he’s also one of the five fastest players on the team.
In either case, it’s a reminder that the Gophers are far from set at receiver and aren’t sure what they have beyond senior KJ Maye and junior Drew Wolitarsky. That’s not a comfortable thought for a team that needs to replace Maxx Williams, who led the team in receiving last season by a wide margin.
“You don’t replace [Williams] with one guy, you replace him with multiple guys,” Kill said. “Our receivers have got to be able to go make some plays for the quarterback.”
The Gophers also need to replace David Cobb, who broke their single-season rushing record last year, but they are confident about sharing the load among senior Rodrick Williams, sophomore Berkley Edwards and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith.
Once ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 7 running back recruit, Jones always said he wanted to get on the field any way he could. The Gophers experimented with him at receiver this spring and watched him make several eye-opening catches.
“Jeff will be starting out [camp] at wide receiver, and he can also do things in the backfield if needed,” Kill said. “He’s talented enough to do both, but we’ll see how all that goes. He’s done good in class. Now we’ve got to see what his work habits are going to be.”
Added Kill: “The most important thing is we’d better get the best 11 players on the field, whoever they are.”
The 6-2, 227-pound Streveler made one start at quarterback last year as a redshirt freshman, with Mitch Leidner injured. Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards in a victory over San Jose State but completed only one of seven passes.
“We may practice him a little bit [at receiver] to see what he does, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to play him at wide receiver,” Kill said. “He’s a good athlete, and I said, ‘While you’re working [this offseason], do some things at receiver.’ So we’ll see.”
The two receivers Leidner raved about most, coming through summer workouts, are Maye and Wolitarsky. Maye had 298 yards receiving and 144 yards rushing last season.
“I think he’s worked harder than any receiver in college football, and he has just as much talent as everyone,” Leidner said. “To be able to rub that work ethic off on younger players has been huge.”
Wolitarsky suffered a sprained ankle in the Illinois loss Oct. 25, missed four games and didn’t catch another pass. But he is back to full health and running even faster after dropping some weight.
“His body is in the best shape it’s ever been in,” Leidner said. “He can run all day. I’m expecting really big things out of him.”
The Gophers also hope their promising redshirt freshmen receivers can emerge.
“Melvin Holland has had a great summer, just going on what Mitch and KJ say,” Kill said. “Desmond Gant is an unbelievable talent; he has to continue to work on his hands.
“Isaiah Gentry is a special, special athlete. Coach [Brian Anderson, receivers coach] is going to push him in camp a little bit. He’s got to work a little harder.”
Kill is determined to make sure other receivers are fighting that group for playing time.