Tyler Johnson was a standout quarterback and defensive back at Minneapolis North last year, not to mention a prolific basketball guard. But it’s been his play at wide receiver that has the Gophers so excited.
“There’s no way he’ll redshirt. I mean, you’re going to see him Thursday night [against Oregon State],” coach Tracy Claeys told 100.3-FM on Tuesday. “He’s just done unbelievable at wide receiver. His hands — he goes and gets the ball, blocks, it’s been unbelievable.”
The Gophers planned to have Drew Wolitarsky, Rashad Still and Eric Carter as their starting wide receivers, but Carter has a high ankle sprain. The depth chart lists junior walk-on Brian Smith as the other starter, with the 6-2, 185-pound Johnson behind him.
Johnson made an immediate impression on Wolitarsky this summer.
“He has great focus, first of all,” Wolitarsky said. “You can tell when a freshman comes in and doesn’t really pay attention, thinks they know everything. But he came in and looked us in the eye when we introduced ourselves, took notes when we were doing film, really just paid attention to the little details.
“I think he has a 60-inch [vertical jump]. I swear, he jumps like a gazelle.”
In the team’s Aug. 13 scrimmage, Johnson ran a post pattern and came back to the ball, shielding the defender for a 29-yard touchdown reception from Seth Green. That was one of several practice highlights.
Claeys has repeatedly called Johnson one of the team’s surprises.
“But after going back and thinking about it, that kid’s been playing AAU basketball since he’s a freshman or sophomore [in high school],” Claeys told 100.3-FM. “And you play against older kids and bigger kids all the time, and so it did not bother him one bit. From Day 1, he went out in practice and he went out there and he’s made plays. I am so excited about him.”
• Sophomore cornerback KiAnte Hardin is back from injury and will play against Oregon State, Claeys said. Hardin and Ray Buford have been competing for the starting spot, opposite Jalen Myrick.
• Running back Shannon Brooks (broken foot) has been off crutches and moving around for a while, Claeys said. Brooks is doubtful for the Oregon State game, but Claeys hasn’t ruled him out.
• Claeys had no update on Brandon Lingen (shoulder) heading into Thursday’s opener.
• Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, who went 2-0 against Minnesota as Wisconsin’s coach, said of the Gophers this week: “Many people may not use that word ‘powerhouse’ for those guys, just because of where they are. But I would because I think it’s a team that can line up against anybody in the country.”