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Updated: July 29th, 2013 6:15pm
Gophers WR Crawford-Tufts' departure not ideal, but not a major loss

Gophers WR Crawford-Tufts' departure not ideal, but not a major loss

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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Junior wide receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts has chosen to leave the Gophers football team for the upcoming season, and instead join the track and field team full-time, the Gophers announced on Monday.

"Devin and I have met multiple times over the past couple of months, and he has decided to focus on track and field for the upcoming season," coach Jerry Kill said. "Devin is a fine young man. We wish him well and will be rooting for him."

Crawford-Tufts' departure comes less than a week before the Gophers are slated to open preseason training camp.

While the loss of Crawford-Tufts is not ideal, it is not a total shock, nor is it as big of a blow to the already questionable receiving corps as it may look on the surface.

Crawford-Tufts, who split his time between football and track last season, spent his first two years battling reoccurring injuries, most notably with his hamstrings, while seeing only on mild success on the field.

His sophomore campaign was a disappointment after showing promise as a freshman. Unable to make the leap into the playmaker the Gophers needed, Crawford-Tufts had only 47 yards in a six-game stretch last season before reeling in a pass at the Meineke Car Care Bowl for his only career touchdown. He finished the season with 189 yards on 16 receptions.

Crawford-Tufts never hid his strong love for running track in sprint distances, and he convinced Kill to allow him to do both last season after being told to focus only on football as a freshman.

There is little question that the Gophers' wide receiver unit is the biggest area of concern on offense, with no returning receiver having recorded more than 375 yards in 2012. But despite the unproven nature of the group, Crawford-Tufts would have still likely slotted towards the backend of the depth chart as the fourth or fifth option.

Redshirt junior Isaac Fruechte, redshirt senior Derrick Engel, redshirt freshman Jamel Harbison and sophomore K.J. Maye all seemed to have surpassed Crawford-Tufts in the order heading into camp.

What Crawford-Tufts' absence does is create an opening for recently reinstated sophomore Andre McDonald. McDonald, a well-regarded prospect out of Hopkins high school, has the physical tools to work in the Gophers' offense, but he must prove that he can keep the off-field issues in-check. McDonald was suspended from the team in December, but he worked out with his teammates throughout the summer and was given the go-ahead recently to rejoin the team for fall camp.

"Receiver for us is that question mark area that needs to be cleared up. Having a guy like Andre back, it only helps you," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said in a conversation last week.

"I think there is more of a head down, got to prove myself mentality, he's humbled a little bit, got to go out and prove myself every day. That's what he's shown leading up to this point. That's a great sign. If he's back and his mind is right, that's a weapon. That's a big, physical kid that isn't afraid to go mix it up ... If he stays on track, we're optimistic, we're excited. But at the same time, if he starts veering off-track, next man up."

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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