Freshmen receivers hope to revive offense

Murali Balaji

Gophers’ wide receivers coach Vic Adamle has a lot of reasons to smile this year.
One reason comes from Detroit, another from Miami. In freshmen Ron Johnson and Jermaine Mays, the Gophers have two receivers with speed and game-breaking ability, along with something that was missing from last years receiving corps — size.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Johnson was heavily recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Kansas as a senior at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, where he caught 49 passes for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns. But when the time came to sign, he chose Minnesota.
“I really liked the coaching staff when I came up here,” Johnson said. “I saw more chances of playing here than at the other schools.”
The Gophers are hoping that Johnson’s desire to play will mean better offensive production for the team.
“So far, he’s been impressive,” said Adamle. “His size creates a different dimension for our offense. We don’t have to run the same routes.”
Mays (6-foot, 171 pounds) brings the true game-breaking speed that the Gophers have lacked on offense in recent years. With 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, he is one of the team’s fastest players.
As a senior at Jackson High School in Miami, Mays caught 53 passes for 941 yards and four touchdowns before his season ended with a broken collarbone. With the injury behind him, Mays looks to make an immediate impact.
“I just hope I can come in here and play well,” Mays said. “I’ve been up here since June 14, working out with guys on the team, so I’m just getting used to everything.”
Mays’ learning will also be aided by fellow Miami native and former high school teammate Luke Leverson, who will start at wide receiver this year.
“He’s very good,” Leverson said of Mays. “I’ve known him for three or four years now. It’s always good to have someone you know around to help you.”
With Johnson, Mays, and redshirt freshman Elvin Jones (6-foot-4) in the mix, Adamle says that the fade — a pattern which relies on a receiver using his size to get the ball — will play a more prominent role in the offense.
“We didn’t throw any fades last year,” he said. “When you get into the red zone, you’re looking to get the quick score. We need to be able to throw fades in the endzone.”
Another new wrinkle in the receivers’ arsenal this year will be plays designed for yards-after-the catch. With smaller receivers like Tutu Atwell and Greg Nelson last season, the Gophers did not utilize the slant and short-out patterns as much as they would have liked.
“We’ve always emphasized running with the ball after the catch,” Adamle said. “This year, we’re emphasizing it even more because of the receivers we have now.”
And Johnson seems to have no problem with that.
“I feel as if I can do anything with the ball after I’ve caught it,” he said. “I’m confident that I can make things happen after the catch.”
But Johnson knows that his abilities alone won’t make the Gophers’ receivers a formidable group.
“We’ve got a lot of great receivers,” he said. “They can make a lot of big plays, and I’m just hoping to learn from them.”
“This year, we’ve definitely got more talent than we did last year,” Leverson said. “I think we do a lot fo good things.”
If Mays and Johnson can contribute this year, the wide receiving corps could do a lot better than good.