Receivers Lead Gophers in Week 1

Despite inconsistency from MarQueis Gray, one of the highlights of the Gophers' win at UNLV was the stable of wide receivers that the talented quarterback had at his disposal. Gray spread the ball around to nine different pass-catchers, keeping the Rebels' defense on their toes. On Tuesday, the Minnesota coaches spoke about the young group of receivers.

The 2011 season was certainly a disappointment at the wide receiver position for the Gophers. Da'Jon McKnight was hampered by a knee injury and the younger players were plagued by inexperience. This year brings a new dynamic with added talent and experience at wide out.

One of the main things that the Gopher coaches noticed on Thursday was the new speed at the position.

"What I was impressed by with the young receivers, we got by people, and we haven't got by people since I've been here," said Jerry Kill.

One of the fastest players on the field was JUCO transfer Isaac Fruechte. Despite only catching one pass, Fruechte was able to stretch the defense with his speed.

"I thought Fruechte got by people," said Kill. "He was worn out and didn't get rewarded. So you want to get a guy rewarded when he's doing that."

Another player who made an impact on the game was true freshman K.J. Maye. Maye lined up at running back and receiver and recorded just three catches for 23 yards but showed enough to earn more playing time.

"K.J. Maye is going to be a special football player," Kill said. "He's got a little get up and go to him, and I think his role will increase as the season increases."

Despite the strong showing by the receivers, it wasn't all good news for the Gopher as Jamel Harbison tore his ACL, ending his season.

"[His injury] was a critical thing because he'd had just a tremendous camp," Kill said. "He really had. But at the same time, I talked to him, he's a great personality and he goes, ‘Coach, I got a little experience. I didn't play real good, so I learned a little bit and I'll be ready for next year.' So he's got a good attitude with it."

Although Harbison's injury is devastating for Minnesota, it did allow for an increased role for junior receiver A.J. Barker. Barker was one of the stars of the offense, hauling in three catches for 101 yards, 62 of which came in the second half with Harbison on the bench.

"A.J. Barker has really done a nice job in camp, has gotten better and better," said Kill. "He played very well. Right now he has done some good, good things and made an outstanding catch on the boundary about as good as you'll see, got his feet on the ground."

Finally healthy for the first time in his career, Barker showed a tremendous amount of talent.

"This is the first time he's been healthy since I've been here," said Kill. "But he can run. He's got good speed, good hands, and it was encouraging to see him to play on game day like he did."

Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover wasn't surprised by Barker's play on Thursday.

"He's really come on this fall and he's done a nice job," said Limegrover. "It's really not something that was surprising to us just because he has a guy that has kind of stayed under the radar and done his thing. We have a lot of confidence in him because he knows there isn't a lot of margin for error."

With a bevy of inexperienced, but talented, receivers eager to prove themselves, the Gophers' passing game is poised to become the centerpiece of their developing offense.


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