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Andre McDonald to Miss Gophers Spring Practice: So What Happens at Wide Receiver?

The highly-touted sophomore-to-be was suspended for Minnesota's bowl game, and is currently not enrolled at The U. He definitely won't play spring ball, but will he play in 2013? And how does his absence impact the wide receivers?

University of Minnesota Athletics

Per new Strib Gopher beat writer Joe Christensen, wide receiver Andre McDonald will not participate in spring ball this month, and his status for the 2013 season is very much up in the air:

...Gophers wide receiver Andre McDonald has been taken off the roster while he works through some personal problems. Coach Jerry Kill is confident McDonald can work through those and will welcome him back to the team once he’s ready.

McDonald is not currently enrolled in school, but apparently can still get himself back on the team as long as he's enrolled this summer. Forgive me for being skeptical...but I'm skeptical. I have no insider information and I really hope I'm wrong, as Andre certainly has the potential to be a solid B1G wide receiver, but considering his brief Gopher career to this point- played sparingly, missed time due to a staph infection on his leg, then was suspended for the bowl game- I'm not optimistic we see him in a Gopher uniform again.

The Gopher receiving corps needs all the players and play-makers they can get their hands on, so certainly to lose McDonald would be a blow. He projects as a big, physical possession-type receiver that can go up and get it and even stretch the field a little on a jump ball, the kind of wideout every B1G coach dreams of having. While the impact of losing a player with that kind of potential would be felt, at the same time it's just that: potential. And at least last year, McDonald was far from reaching it as he appeared in just eight games and registered 10 catches for 121 yards. Still, the point remains the Gopher football team is better with McDonald than without, and they need all the help they can get. Regardless of whether they get #12 back on the field this fall, there will be a LOT of candidates fighting for playing time in the spring and summer in hopes that someone can turn into the consistent go-to receiver that AJ Baker was for the first eight games of last season. Despite not playing a full season or the bowl game, Barker's 30 catches for 577 yards and 7 scores dwarfed anybody else's production: McDonald was one of six Gopher wideouts (not including Barker) that had at least 10 catches but less than 20, and no wide receiver had more than 400 yards (Derek Engel led with 375) or more than a measley 2 TD's (The Caledonia Clipper Isaac Fruechte led with...2).

This was a very, VERY young and inexperienced group last season, so there's hope that another offseason and round of spring ball practices will help everybody. Engel was impressive in the bowl game with 4 catches for 108, but was one of only four players to catch a pass in that game, which includes 3 combined for tight ends Drew Goodger and John Rabe. The other receiver who snagged a pass was junior-to-be Devin Crawford-Tufts, and he has all the tools to solve Minnesota's wide receiver problems. DCT played in nine games as a true freshman two seasons ago, and finished strong with a 100 yard effort against Iowa. Last season was expected to be a break-out for him, but instead he suffered through a sophomore slump that barely eclipsed that one Iowa game: 16 catches, 189 yards, and just 1 TD. Disappointing as last year was for the Edina high grad, DCT still possesses all the tools to be a big time B1G receiver. He's 6'2, 200, has shown the ability to get open (at least at time) and make some big catches. Oh, and did we mention he's fast? Like third in the B1G's 60m indoors fast? And eighth in the 200? Yeah the kid has some wheels, but now the trick is bringing that speed to the football field and using it to get deep and gain separation on all his routes. The tools are there, and this spring and summer will hopefully translate into a much more productive fall for DCT.

Two other obvious candidates for playing time are the same two guys who saw the bulk of it last year once Barker left in Engel and Fruechte. Engel likely starts camp as the top guy following his bowl game performance, and we'll see both how he builds on that success and whether he plays outside or they move him into the slot more, where he was pretty good last season. Fruechte played in his first season in the B1G last year, and at 6'3 and 200+ pounds with some good wheels himself, he too has some potential to build on. There's one more player we haven't mentioned, and he certainly shouldn't be forgotten: Redshirt frosh Jamel Harbison had locked down a starting spot for last season's opener as a TRUE FRESHMAN, but unfortunately a knee injury against UNLV ended his season almost as soon as it began, and I'm VERY interested to see how he looks in spring ball. With a running back build at 5'11 and 200 pounds with good speed and hands, Harbison looked to be the real deal last season, and if he's anywhere close to 100% for this fall, he could be a major factor.

The only other two receivers with experience are slot guys Marcus Jones and KJ Maye (fine Logan Hutton had 1 catch for 7 yards and Victor Keise didn't catch a single pass), both of whom didn't do much last year. Maye had just 11 catches for 49 yards while Jones, who looked like a potential star two seasons ago before he suffered his own knee injury, registered just six catches for 67 yards. Maybe he just needed a full season for his knee to heal, but those are two potentially explosive guys who Minnesota could use more from. After them, it's a few true freshman who will try and earn playing time, but if I'm not mistaken Eric Carter, Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky won't join the team until August. Whether McDonald is able to come back this summer or not, the competition at wide receiver will be one of the most important when spring ball starts in a couple of weeks.