Notebook: Search is on for another option at receiver
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If he stays healthy, Da'Jon McKnight is the "U" football team's clear-cut No. 1 receiver.
Four practices into pre-season camp, who will fill the remaining spots on the depth chart from there is still up in the air.
The receiving corp was ravaged by injuries during the spring, including McKnight, who strained his left knee midway through practice. The rash of injuries exposed the Gophers' severe lack of experienced options down-field for junior quarterback MarQueis Gray.
Even with the majority of the team's receivers healthy again, it is yet to be seen if it will be enough.
"I think we'll answer that question at the end of the season whether we do or not," coach Jerry Kill said slyly. "Are we thick in that position? No. We're not thick anywhere.
"We don't have a lot of depth in any area, so I think every player is critical for us. That's why we're repping every player we've got right now."
Apart from McKnight, Victor Keise and A.J. Barker are the only returning wide receivers who registered any playing time last season, but both caught just one pass. That number is sure to increase as Keise and Barker are expected to play a larger role in this year's offense.
"We took it as a goal to show people that we aren't short and don't lack depth," Keise said. "Even our young guys are getting after it and mixing it in."
Junior college transfers Malcolm Moulton and Ge'shun Harris, as well as true freshman Marcus Jones have all seen a large number of looks in the first four days of camp and will also be jockeying for Gary's attention. All three could be viable options, but the Gophers won't know if they truly have the proper tools on the outside until at least two or three weeks into the season.
"Are they better athletically than they were in the spring? At this point in practice they are, but I'd like to see them make some plays in some critical situations," Kill said.
While depth is an issue throughout the team, there will be added emphasis on the developing relationship between Gray and his young group of receivers.
"Any great quarterback has receivers that can go up and get it, so we're going to see if we're going to have that or not," Kill said.
Taking it to the Max
True freshman quarterback Max Shortell continued to get reps with the second team offense Thursday, as he is making his case to be the top back-up behind Gray.
The Kansas native has had a chance to show off his arm down field, but has struggled at times in short yardage situations. That hasn't stopped him, however, from shouldering more snaps than redshirt sophomore Moses Alipate, redshirt freshman Tom Parish and junior Adam Lueck.
Running back Duane Bennett isn't surprised by Shortell's already expanded role with the offense.
"Not at all," Bennett said. "He came in during the summer and we got a good look at him as we were doing captain's practice. He had some great throws during that time and he was really just learning terminology without the coaches. I feel like he was in a great position once he got up here. He's got some athletic ability. He's going to be able to help us."
Running back Donnell Kirkwood and wide receiver A.J. Barker were sidelined for Thursday's practice with hamstring tweaks. Neither injury appears to be serious. They both should be back at full strength by mid-next week.
Kill said tight end John Rabe hurt his knee, but is unsure of the severity of the injury. However, he expects Rabe could miss a sizeable portion of practice time.
Through four practices, the Gophers have avoided many of the injury issues they endured during the spring, but there are still 22 practices remaining before the opener against USC.
"There's several of them that think they're hurt, but other than that, those are the ones who aren't practicing," Kill said. "Hell, I'm hurt. My hamstring is hurt."
· Marcus Jones made the play of the day for the offense, sprawling out for a 40-yard catch in double coverage.
· It wasn't all offense, however. During two-minute drill work, cornerback Troy Stoudermire easily intercepted a throw by Gray and took off down the sidelines for what could have been a possible touchdown.
· The Gophers were only in shoulder pads Thursday, but will be in full pads on Friday.
· For fans considering on coming out to the Gophers' first two-a-day on Saturday, the morning session will focus on technique and the kicking game, while the afternoon practice will be more group work against each other.