Donovahn Jones | WR | Sophomore | 6'3" 200 lbs. G REC YDS AVG. TD RUSH YDS AVG. TD 11 10 157 15.7 0 16 73 4.56 0
Donovahn Jones's numbers from his freshman year aren't earth shattering by any means; he only started two games and caught a total of 10 passes, but the converted quarterback represents the best downfield threat the Gophers have, a badly needed component to the run-heavy offense we expect to see in 2014.
Jones played in 11 games, starting with the season opener against UNLV, but he really didn't make an impact until the Nebraska game, when he rushed for 42 yards on four carries. Although he didn’t register a catch, it was during that game when he truly became part of the gameplan, with offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover using Jones on pitches, sweeps and end arounds. Near the end of the year, he registered catches of 21, 31 and 29 yards against Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively.
A true freshman who originally committed to the Missouri Tigers, Jones was pushed into action at receiver simply because the Gophers had little else at the position, especially in terms of a playmaker who could take coverage down the field. He isn't ready to be the team's main possession receiver – if he ever fits that role, in 2014 that will likely be Drew Wolitarsky and/or Maxx Williams – but Jones has the athleticism to change the game each time he touches the ball.
Jones lined up last fall at receiver for the first time in his life last year for the Gophers, telling FSN's Tyler Mason that he studied some tape of receiver Brent Little, whom Kill coached at Southern Illinois. But Jones also did some video research of his own, watching DeSean Jackson on YouTube.
"A big part of it was confidence. I never played (receiver) before, so I wasn't sure about if I was doing things the right way or not," Jones told Mason. "I started watching wide receivers on YouTube on stuff, watching techniques."
That’s where Jones could make his progress this year. Learning a play book is hard enough, learning an entire position takes time and repetition. There were times on deep balls when it seemed Jones hadn’t done much high-point catching before. Truth is, he hadn’t outside of rebounding in high school basketball. Considering that he only recently started playing receiver – and wholeheartedly supports the move – he could make large strides in his technique this year. He won't lead the team in catches – Wolitarsky seems to be the best bet to do that – but with the Gophers running as much as they will, having the possibility of Jones making one or two big catches each game would open up the offense.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner is inexperienced himself and will need as much help as he can get from his receivers; there is little doubt that Leidner needs to improve his accuracy, but it will help if his receivers can get separation as well. If Jones can give Leidner a true deep threat – in addition to a threat on power sweeps – it makes Leidner’s job a lot easier.
The stats may not come this year, but we're looking for a higher frequency of big plays from Jones and an improvement in battling for jump balls and the back-shoulder fade.
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Elliot Mann is a Minnesota-based freelance writer who contributes to The Daily Gopher. Follow photos of his meals and other vital information like why Tim Brewster blocked him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliotmann.