The Minnesota Golden Gophers prepare for the 2013 season facing a familiar question on offense: Who is going to play wide receiver for them? Just like in 2012, the receiver position is looking bleak with no proven commodities for the Gophers to lean on in the passing game. Things got even bleaker following the messy split between the team and A.J. Barker last season. So who will step up in 2013?
Losing Barker was a major blow to a unit that was already thin to begin with. Last season, Barker led the team in every receiving category and was the only Minnesota receiver to catch more than 20 passes. In all, he hauled in 30 balls for 577 yards with seven touchdowns in just eight games. But after an ugly ordeal between head coach Jerry Kill and himself, Barker’s days at Minnesota are over.
That leaves a big group of unproven commodities for Minnesota next fall. Their safest bet could be senior Derrick Engel, who was a steady possession receiver for most of last season before a breakout performance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl where he caught four passes for 108 yards. On the season, he caught 18 passes for 375 yards with just one touchdown. Can he turn his big bowl game into a breakout senior season?
He’ll be joined by junior Isaac Fruechte, another possession receiver, who finished second on the team in receptions last season. He hauled in 19 catches for 256 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Fruechte faded down the stretch in 2012, though, making just one catch for four yards in the Gophers’ final three games of the season. Will he become a steadier presence in the passing game?
Devin Crawford-Tufts is another returning receiver who could make an impact next season. He showed flashes of big-play ability with his game-changing speed, but the junior failed to turn it into a breakout season, finishing the year with 16 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. Bad routes and suspect hands sabotaged his ability to make a name for himself in 2012, but will he be able to fix that next fall?
Maybe Minnesota will end getting its biggest boost at the position from someone who didn’t contribute in 2012. Jamel Harbison came to the Gophers with plenty of fanfare as coaches and local media raved about him, but an injury in the season opener against the UNLV Rebels forced the freshman to sit out the year under a medical redshirt. He is back and looking better than expected in spring practice, so could he be the key to the Gophers’ passing game next fall?
If all else fails, Kill could turn to one of his quarterback recruits to take some snaps at receiver. Chris Streveler enrolled early at Minnesota to be a full participant in spring practice and is going to make a run at the starting quarterback job. If he’s unable to unseat Philip Nelson, the team could use Streveler’s incredible athleticism in the passing game other ways.
For now, however, there are nothing but questions when it comes to the state of the Minnesota wide receivers. Will anyone be able to assert themselves as a go-to receiver or will the Gophers’ offense by stymied by its lack of playmakers?