Gray accepts new role as wide receiver

MarQueis Gray started the season at quarterback, but injuries have forced him to switch positions.

by Samuel Gordon

MarQueis Gray posted a 6-7 record as Minnesota’s starting quarterback.

Now, the Gophers will see what he can do as a receiver.

Gray started the season at quarterback and is expected to finish it at wide receiver. He isn’t a stranger to being split out wide, as he was full-time wide receiver for the Gophers in 2010.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and his staff turned the quarterback duties over to true freshman Philip Nelson last week, a move Gray said he’s comfortable with as long as he can still contribute.

“I want the ball as much as I can,” Gray said. “Being at receiver limits that a little bit, but [switching positions is] one thing that I’m willing to do to get this team to a bowl game.”

As a sophomore in 2010, Gray caught 42 passes for 587 yards and five touchdowns from quarterback Adam Weber, who is now in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Nelson will throw to Gray for the rest of the season. Nelson made his first career start last Saturday against Wisconsin and targeted Gray a team-high seven times.

“In the middle of the game you go with what you feel, and sometimes I see MarQueis out there and he’d have a good matchup,” Nelson said. “I like throwing the ball to him. He’s a bigger target, and he’s got great hands.”

Gray injured his ankle in the Gophers’ Sept. 15 win over Western Michigan, and the injury has limited his mobility in the backfield.

Kill has said numerous times that Gray is too valuable a player to be sitting on the sidelines, and playing receiver will allow him a chance to get fully healthy.

Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Gray could prove to be a huge asset at wide receiver.

“He’s a big body — a guy that people’s eyes will naturally go to, even if he’s a decoy,” Limegrover said. “When he gets out there, we’re still going to try and get him the ball. He’s still a difference-maker.”

At 6 feet 4 inches and 245 pounds, Gray is by far the biggest receiver on the roster — a gift and a curse.

Most cornerbacks are 6 feet or shorter, and Gray’s size — a significant advantage when he goes out for passes — can be disadvantageous when he stays in to block.

Gray said smaller corners can be shifty and difficult to block. He said blocking is the hardest part about playing wide receiver.

But if he can improve his blocking and make plays in the passing game, he may get a chance to play in the NFL.

“I never really thought of myself going to the next level playing receiver,” Gray said. “I have so many people telling me that. That’s what the scouts have been coming in saying.”

Injury notes

Kill said Tuesday that starting left tackle Ed Olson will be out for the second-straight week. Olson’s younger brother and starting left guard Tommy Olson is also questionable. Olson didn’t play last week either.

Receivers Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte will both be active Saturday. Neither played last week at Wisconsin.

Safety Derrick Wells is questionable. He suffered what Kill called a laceration on his leg, but he played against Wisconsin.