Autman-Bell and receiving corps dazzle in Gopher football’s 2021 spring game

The spring game showcased the depth of Minnesota’s wide receivers, and who could take on a larger role after the departure of Rashod Bateman.

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Liam Armstrong

Wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell raises his arms in celebration of a touchdown at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Gophers defeated Penn State 31-26 to bring their record to 9-0, a first since 1904.

Matthew Kennedy

After relying heavily on wide receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman the last two seasons, the Gophers football team will now have to find their way without either player this year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Johnson in the 2020 NFL draft, and Bateman followed suit on Thursday when he selected No. 27 overall by the Baltimore Ravens.

The 2021 spring football game provided an opportunity to look at who might be stepping up in the Gophers’ receiving corps this season.

Redshirt junior Chris Autman-Bell solidified his place as the top wide receiver with his performance in this year’s spring game. He was the Sid Hartman Offensive MVP of the game, hauling in four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown. His chemistry on Team Maroon with quarterback Tanner Morgan was impeccable, quieting any doubts he would have trouble handling the promotion.

Autman-Bell has played with Morgan for five years and has known him since high school, and said postgame that Autman-Bell has done well in his role.

“Chris does a phenomenal job of getting open and coming down with balls,” Morgan said. “We’ve seen it in the past and here in the spring that he can make 50-50 type-catches. I love that dude to death, and he’s done an awesome job leading this team.”

Going into the scrimmage, the rest of the wide receiver depth chart was a big question mark. None of the returning receivers have had notable success in their past seasons playing for the Gophers and Brady Boyd, an incoming three-star recruit out of Southlake, Texas, has yet to hit the collegiate gridiron.

Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck is excited to see what the young pass-catcher can accomplish as he starts his career in Minneapolis.

“He’s been to the state championship in Texas, so he is a big-time player in big-time situations, and he showed that today,” Fleck said. “His ceiling is so high, he’s going to add to our youthful receiving depth, and he’s an unbelievable human being.”

Boyd played well alongside returning players Daniel Jackson and Clay Geary on Team Gold, catching passes from Zack Annexstad. They seemed very comfortable in their roles on the field and would fit in well alongside Autman-Bell in the depth chart. Boyd hauled in two passes for 60 yards.

Jackson and Geary had four receptions each for 63 and 74 yards, respectively. Geary came up big in the fourth quarter for Team Gold, earning three of his four catches in the final drive.

Fleck said he was impressed with the hunger in his young wide receivers and that Geary’s big catches in the final drive show he can do the same in game situations this season.

On Team Maroon, wide receiver Mike Brown-Stephens caught two passes totaling 25 yards and made a four-yard touchdown pass to Morgan.

One wide receiver yet to make an appearance with Minnesota is Dylan Wright, who did not play Saturday. A former four-star recruit, Wright is a transfer from Texas A&M who is entering his junior year.

Autman-Bell and Team Maroon beat Team Gold 24-17 as Cam Wiley ran in a late two-yard touchdown for the final score.

The Gophers open their season in a marquee matchup versus Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 2. The last time Minnesota played the Buckeyes, it lost 30-14 at Columbus, Ohio, in 2018.