At a press conference prior to the first practice of the season on March 25, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason cracked a joke about how he could hand off to one of his star running backs.
The joke was in reference to the Gophers’ inexperience at the quarterback position and the team’s success at running the football, which was third best nationally last year, averaging 289.2 yards per game.
But while Minnesota’s running game is expected to again lead the offense this season, its passing game will be just as vital to the Gophers’ success.
After losing starting quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq and star receiver Aaron Hosack to graduation, the Gophers are young at wide receiver.
“We’re awful raw,” Mason said at the Gophers’ second public scrimmage of the season Saturday.
Minnesota’s key returnee at the position is Jared Ellerson, who, along with Hosack, combined for nine 100-yard receiving games.
Ellerson, a speedy wideout from Copley, Ohio, will be the Gophers go-to guy at receiver. Despite the pressure, Ellerson said he is set for that responsibility.
“I am ready to go,” Ellerson said. “I want to take some of the pressure off of our running game.”
Listed at the depth chart across from Ellerson is Jakari Wallace.
Wallace, a junior from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., has shown signs of improvement during the spring season.
Despite only catching three passes last season, Wallace is only two years removed from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2002’s spring practice.
“Wallace has adjusted,” Mason said.
The Gophers’ other young receivers who could make an impact are Logan Payne, Micah Rucker and Adam Galbreath.
But the biggest impact might not come from an underclassman.
The big question mark is senior Paris Hamilton. The receiver garnered most of the headlines prior to his arrival on campus last season but sat out during the 2003 campaign with a knee injury.
If Hamilton – rated the No. 1 junior college receiver by
JCFootball.com – returns to form, he would likely move
immediately to the starting
lineup. At the spring practice Saturday, Hamilton played with the second team and caught one pass.
“I think I can make big plays,” Hamilton said. “Everyone feels everyone is going to have to step it up.”
With Hamilton’s ability and Ellerson showering the young receivers with knowledge, the Gophers hope to find more than adequate replacements.
Ellerson believes the Gophers have more big play potential than last season.
Both Ellerson and Hamilton have some immediate advice for the Gophers newcomers and emerging talent.
“Listen to (wide receivers) coach (Richard) Wilson,” Ellerson said. “He is going to have us all ready play.”
The Gophers’ first true chance to show their receiver abilities is Minnesota’s annual spring game this Saturday at the Metrodome.
ï Tight end Matt Spaeth did not play Saturday. Mason said he suffered a “head bump” last Friday.
The sophomore caught 12 passes for 98 yards last season.
ï Backup full safety Quentin White injured his right ankle early in the hour-long scrimmage and did not return. He was on crutches by the time the final horn sounded.