Previously - Quarterbacks, Fullbacks, Running Backs, Tight Ends.
For the past two years, the Gophers' passing attack largely centered around Eric Decker, and why not? A splendid route runner, quality blocker, and possessed with glue on his gloves, Decker had 50 receptions in 8 games in 2009 before a weird pivot on an out route in the Horseshoe effectively ended his season. This almost doubled the number two producer at wideout in 2009 (Troy Stoudermire with 26). A couple of viable options emerged in 2009 and give optimism for the 2010 season (Ben Kuznia also departs, FTR). Let's run it down.
The Presumed Starters - Da'Jon McKnight (Jr.) and Stoudermire (Jr.) - I list these two, both part of the "Skyline Four", as presumptive starters because they were starters against Iowa State in the Insight Bowl. Stoudermire is the jack of all trades on the team, contributing on kickoff returns (with devastating effect, particularly against Cal in 2009), on end arounds, as well in the passing game with the aforementioned 26 receptions. McKnight is a tall threat at 6-3, and had a breakout performance in the Insight Bowl, catching 7 of his 17 receptions in 2009, and going for 124 yards. All in all, these starters have significant experience, good speed, and are solid WR options.
The Backups - Brandon Green, a junior from Chicago, caught 21 balls in 2009 but was shut out in the bowl game. Sophomore Bryant Allen, currently moonlighting on Tubby Smith's bench, is the team's punt returner and had 5 catches in 2009. Xzavian Brandon is a redshirt sophomore that did not catch a ball last year. Hayo Carpenter was a five-star JUCO recruit in the 2009 class. In 2009 he contributed 3 kickoff returns and two receptions, one of which was a momentum-killing fumble against Cal. He was epoxyed to the bench the rest of the year (and is a similar year away from being an epic fail recruit), and presumably the coaches used the same material with which they kept David Pittman on the sidelines all of 2009 (one side note that I will try and sort out: Pittman is still listed as a senior after the post-Signing Day roster updates at the Gopher website. As he was a 2008 JUCO signee, I'm not sure why.)
A.J. Barker, a sophomore from De La Salle, Victor Keise, a 2009 recruit whose only reported offer on Scout was from Minnesota, and Sahr Ngekia, a redshirt freshman from Holy Angels, fill out the returnees. I will be surprised if their play extends beyond mop-up and possible special teams work.
The New Guys - Marquise Hill and Logan Hutton - Hill is 6-0 with a fake 40 of 4.49. He is guru approved, with offers from Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Hutton was a Signing Day Surprise, having been poached from Sam Houston State or Navy. I expect to see neither of these recruits play this year. Redshirts beckon.
Obviously, the de-commitment of Chris Hawkins, the academic failings of James Green, and the unsuccessful flirting with James Louis will affect the receiver corps down the line. The position likely needs 2-3 signees in 2011.
Overall Grade: B. Once again, look to the offensive line to determine whether Weber/Gray/Alipate and the wideouts will be given time to, respectively, pass downfield and run effective routes. If so, there are a few players with speed and experience that will be able to stretch the field. Add to that Stoudermire's ability to run the occasional end around, and perhaps a light mixing of MarQueis Gray into the WR rotation, and the options look promising. McKnight, in particular, is a matchup problem for many DBs at his height.
One thing that is a concern is run blocking. Decker was a master, and after he was lost for the year the edge running game was largely thwarted. The returnees haven't shown GREAT blocking ability, and improvement will be expected if the backs can break long runs in 2010.
If either Stoudermire or Brandon are hurt or non-effective, the depth is a concern, and the high impact speedster that Brewster wanted to get in either James Green or Louis would have been useful and would have slotted into the rotation right away. Here's hoping Carpenter lives up to his JUCO stars, and Allen becomes a bigger contributor in year two.