Minnesota quarterbacks passed for a combined 31 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Thirteen of those scores were tossed to a tight end. In the last two seasons, Minnesota has completed a combined 312 passes with 75 of those passes (24 percent) being caught by a tight end of H-back. This all gives position coach Rob Reeves many reasons to smile.
The 2014 season should follow the path of years past, as Minnesota’s leading returning receiver is redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams. The Waconia, Minn., native led the Gophers last year in receiving yards (417) and tied for the team lead in receptions (25) and receiving touchdowns (5). He also showed his versatility on a fake punt when he rushed seven yards for a first down and returned two kicks last year for 29 yards. Williams finished third on the team in all-purpose yards with 453 and was named to Athlon's Freshman All-America Third Team. He capped his season with five catches for 76 yards and one touchdown in the Texas Bowl.
One of the elder statesmen of the group is Drew Goodger from Shawnee Mission, Kan. Goodger caught seven passes for 111 yards and one touchdown last year and was a huge component (caught three passes for a team-high 68 yards) in Minnesota’s 34-23 win against Nebraska. Goodger, who is one of the toughest players on the team, has caught 22 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns as a Gopher.
Lincoln Plsek is a 6-4, 269-pound run-blocking tight end from West, Texas. He played in every game last season and helped pave the way for Minnesota to rush for 2,538 yards (most for the Gophers since they ran for 3,277 yards in 2005). Plsek did not catch any passes in 2013, but showed that ability in 2012 when he hauled in three passes for 22 yards a true freshman.
Minnesota should benefit from a healthy Alex Bisch in 2014. The redshirt senior missed the first nine games of last season with an injury before playing in the final four. Bisch, who has played in 12 career games, should be a cog on special teams. He has not recorded any offensive statistics in his career, but off the field he is a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
The Gophers have two promising young talents in redshirt freshmen Nick Hart and Nate Wozniak. Both have shown the ability to catch the ball in fall practice and at 6-10, one would think Wozniak would provide some matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Freshmen Brandon Lingen and Jerry Gibson are two extremely talented tight ends who joined the team this year. The Gophers’ coaching staff will have to decide whether to play the duo this year or wait a season until they unleash their talents on the field.
Minnesota did suffer a blow in fall camp when promising redshirt sophomore Duke Anyanwu suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss the season.
One position that the Gophers need to find a replacement for this year is fullback, as Mike Henry was lost to graduation and Gabe Mezzenga joined the professional world. Minnesota has three fullbacks – Tyler Hartmann, Jephete Matilus and Miles Thomas – on its roster and the starting spot is up for grabs.
Hartmann played in two games last year after moving from the defensive line to fullback prior to spring practice in 2013.
Like Hartmann, Matilus is a fullback convert. He moved from linebacker to fullback prior to 2014 fall camp after playing in 13 games last year on special teams. He notched eight tackles last season, but showed his offensive skills in practice as he served as the work team running back and was named the Offensive Work Team Player of the Year.
Thomas is a 5-11, 235-pound battering ram who joined the Gophers in January 2014 and participated in spring practice. He transferred to Minnesota from Butler County Community College where he scored four touchdowns on eight rushes. He also served as a potent blocker as his offense rushed for 1,908 yards and passed for 2,324 yards. Thomas played eight-man football in high school and was a state powerlifting champion at Downs-Lakeside high school in Downs, Kan.
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