Through a ‘dip’ and a ‘surge,’ wide receiver Phillip Howard learns on the fly

Through the ups and downs, the receiver is developing in his first season with game time.

Wide receiver Phillip Howard eyes his opponents during the game against Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ellen Schmidt, Daily File Photo

Wide receiver Phillip Howard eyes his opponents during the game against Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Drew Cove

For wide receiver Phillip Howard, patience is key this year.

Howard is in his first season playing for the Gophers, and by adjusting to the passing game, looks to continue to make headway against Minnesota’s next opponent, Nebraska. He has 103 yards receiving, which ranks third on the team.

“[I’ve learned] patience,” Howard said. “You can’t rush anything, really. It takes time to develop … keep working at your craft, and every day you’ll get better.”

The receivers have had a tougher time getting involved with the offense due to Minnesota’s run-heavy offense. The receivers have over 200 yards less than the ground game for the season.

The Gophers favor the run because of their three talented upperclass backs, each with games over 100 rushing yards, and they had two inexperienced quarterbacks at the start of the season.

Wide receiver Tyler Johnson has been the top receiver for Minnesota’s offense, and he is only in his second year as a wide receiver ever.

“I see a lot of growth [from Howard],” Johnson said. “He learns from his mistakes, he learns from his teammates mistakes as well … and each day he keeps getting better and better.”

Johnson and Howard, like some of the other receivers, came from being a quarterback in high school.

At Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope, Minnesota, Howard switched from wide receiver to quarterback. At the quarterback position, he threw for 802 yards and 11 touchdowns on 45 passes and garnered a 6-3 record in nine games. Also at quarterback, he ran for 426 yards and six touchdowns.

Now, he has made the transition to wide receiver, and Howard has found his way after he was redshirted last season in his first year.

“We’ve got coach Simon who played receiver in college … coach Fleck who even played receiver.” Howard said. “It’s a great experience to learn from those guys and also [my] teammates as well.”

The wide receiver transition has been made by Gophers’ receivers, including Johnson, and Howard.

It is his second season at the position, and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said the usual trajectory of a first year receiver is rocky.

“With most young players, there’s a little bit of an up and down curve with him,” Ciarrocca said. “There was a surge, and maybe a little bit of a dip, he got hurt a little bit there [and] missed some time, but that’s no excuse.”

Ciarrocca told Howard on Sunday that there is a connection between his focus on details during the week and his play in games.

Howard has found a way to insert himself into the stat sheet in glimpses, like Ciarrocca said, in surges.

The receiver has had two games over 40 receiving yards, while he has missed playing in only one game. He had 46 yards on four receptions against Maryland and 41 yards on two receptions against Michigan.

In each of those games he had a catch over 19 yards, with a 19-yard grab in the Maryland game, and a 25-yard catch in the Michigan game.

Head coach P.J. Fleck mentioned that Howard has been thrust into his new role, with injuries to guys like wide receivers Demetrius Douglas and Melvin Holland Jr.

“I think he’s understanding what it means to be a starting receiver,” Fleck said. “You’ve got to be able to make the plays that come your way, and he’s made some, and I think he’s not made some.”