Ellerson fights to define role in Gophers’ attack

The junior wide receiver leads Minnesota in catches with 22.

Dan Miller

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innesota football coach Glen Mason called out receiver Jared Ellerson on Tuesday – sort of.

“I’m disappointed with the production we are getting out of Jared Ellerson, and that’s not a reflection of Jared Ellerson, it’s not,” Mason said. “We know he’s a good receiver, (but) it’s an ongoing battle of how we utilize guys.”

With the Gophers looking for a balance between the run and pass, Ellerson’s play has become critical to the Gophers’ success.

During his sophomore season, the 6-foot-1-inch Ellerson came onto the scene as a relative unknown and led the Gophers in receiving yards (909) and yards per catch (20.7). Since then, Mason has repeatedly called Ellerson the “most underrated receiver in the Big Ten.”

But this season, Minnesota coaches want a little more.

“He had a great year last year, and I have talked to

him briefly about it, but right now I would like to see him push his game to another level,” wide receivers coach Richard Wilson said. “I want him to take the challenge and take a leadership position, and to do that you need to put yourself out front. I think he can do that, and I think he’s ready to do that.”

But Ellerson faces a roadblock in distinguishing himself. Even though he has supplanted Aaron Hosack as the primary receiver, Ellerson’s catch total is only up two from last year, and he now has a lot on his plate.

His coaches want him to step up his game, develop into a leader and throw a lot more blocks than catch balls.

“He is a very unselfish player,” Wilson said. “This year, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do to win.”

In Saturday’s game against Michigan, Ellerson caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. With the Wolverines focusing on the running game, he and Gophers receiver Ernie Wheelwright were primary targets.

“Last week, we threw the ball around a little more and got me involved in the game as well as Ernie (Wheelwright),” Ellerson said.

Wilson said Ellerson has developed into a very effective and physical blocker. With the Gophers running the ball an average of 51 times per game, he’s gotten a lot of practice.

And as the most experienced player in the Gophers’ receiver corps, Ellerson also has some leadership responsibilities.

“I know it gets hard on the (other receivers). Sometimes they’re not getting the ball that much either,” he said. “So I try to keep them motivated and let them know when their turn comes to make the play.”

Ellerson capitalized on a chance last week. Running a hitch route against Michigan, Ellerson lost All-American defensive back Marlin Jackson when he turned downfield and put the Gophers up 21-17 in the third quarter with a 26-yard touchdown catch.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Bryan Cupito said. “They have to stop Laurence (Maroney) and Marion (Barber III), so (Ellerson) gets a lot of one-on-one coverage, and he can usually beat his guy.”

As the season progresses, with opponents inevitably focusing on Minnesota’s running game, the Gophers might need Ellerson to exert himself.

But so far, he’s been doing what he’s told.

“The thing I like about Jared Ellerson the most is that whatever we ask him to do he does it for the team,” Wilson said.