Isaac Fruechte jumps to make a catch at fall camp.
Aug. 6: Practice Photo Gallery l Coach Kill Audio
Who will MarQueis Gray throw the ball to this year?
That is one of the big questions the Gophers must answer during fall camp since his go-to man DaJon McKnight (760 yards and four touchdowns last year) graduated.
The six returning receivers on the roster who caught at least one ball last year combined for 52 catches, 705 yards and three touchdowns a season ago. Senior Brandon Green led that group with 15 catches for 190 yards and one touchdown. Tight end John Rabe had the other two scores.
In comparison, the man who will be doing the throwing, Gray, has 645 career receiving yards and six touchdowns on his resume.
So as the 2012 season approaches there is an opportunity for somebody to step up and become one of Gray's top targets.
Sophomore Devin Crawford-Tufts and sophomore transfer Isaac Fruechte are two players who are hoping to fill that role. Crawford-Tufts played in nine games last year as a true freshman and made eight catches for 156 yards. He also flashed some big-play ability in a win against Iowa as he had receptions of 61 and 39 yards.
"All of the receivers are working hard to be that guy," said Crawford-Tufts. "It was nice to be able to get on the field and play in some games last year. It felt good to be able to get out there and make some plays.
Crawford-Tufts said he and Gray worked well together over the summer during captain's practices and will welcome the role as a big-play receiver.
Coach Jerry Kill said last Thursday before the team opened camp that he felt Crawford-Tufts was ready for a breakout year and he also stressed the need for dynamic, play-making receivers. He reiterated those statements today after the third day of camp.
"He has got to step up and play well for us," said Kill. "He can really run and is a very good athlete. He made some plays for us at the end of the year. For us to be successful he has to have a good year."
Fruechte played at Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College in 2010 (30 receptions, 805 yards and nine touchdowns) before redshirting in 2011. He joined the Gophers in January and participated in spring practice.
"The spring here was kind of nerve-racking because I did not know what to expect," said Fruechte, whose father and uncle are both long-time Gopher season-ticket holders. "It was my first time being up here. I had always just previously walked around as a fan and just saw what was going on. Right now I am just living the dream and going to school here representing the M. It is what I have wanted to do my whole life."
Fruechte, who has made several nice catches in the first three days of camp, said he is working hard to get on the field. That hard work is not lost on coach Kill.
"You can tell he is not thinking and is playing with much more confidence," said Kill comparing Fruechte in the spring to current day. "Over the last three days he is not the same kid he was and we expected that."
Still, despite the quick progress, making the jump from junior college to the Big Ten is a significant one. But Fruechte said he is working hard to become one of Gray's options.
"The spring was extremely huge for me because I am a lot more familiar with the offensive playbook," he said. "It is ten times bigger here. I don't know it all yet, and if you have been watching practice then you see sometimes I get yelled at. But that is alright. I feel really comfortable in the offense right now.
"During practice and when I get opportunities, I have to make plays. If you get the chance, you have to make plays. That is what I am working for right now."