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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Wide Receivers

Tyler Johnson is back. But he’ll need help.

Minnesota v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in a spring game showdown at noon on Saturday, April 14, at TCF Bank Stadium. Leading up to the game, we’ll be taking a look at the outlook for each position group.

Key Departure(s): Rashad Still, Eric Carter, Melvin Holland, Jr., Hunter Register, and Drew Hmielewski
Key Returner(s): Tyler Johnson, Phillip Howard, Mark Williams, Chris Autman-Bell, Demetrius Douglas, and Harry Van Dyne
Early Enrollee(s): None

With head coach P.J. Fleck’s and wide receivers coach Matt Simon’s pedigrees of success with this particular position group, better days are ahead.

But those better days might not come this fall.

At the very least, temper your expectations.

Junior Tyler Johnson returns after hauling in 35 receptions for 677 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He was the Gophers’ lone legitimate receiving threat last season and will be expected to lead a talented but inexperienced receiving corps this fall.

Redshirt sophomore Phillip Howard, the team’s second-leading receiver last season, is also back after recording 11 receptions for 132 receiving yards. Clearly, the gap between Johnson and the rest of the Gophers’ wide receivers is more like a gulf.

The group has seen a number of departures this offseason — Still, Holland, and Register all transferred, Carter graduated, and Hmielewski left the team to focus on baseball — although none provided much in the way of meaningful production last season. But the lack of warm bodies will force a number of underclassman into action this fall.

Redshirt freshman Demetrius Douglas seemed poised for a breakout season at slot receiver last year with 11 receptions for 83 receiving yards through three games before being sidelined with a season-ending foot injury. But there is another redshirt freshman on the roster who will enter this season with high expectations, courtesy of the head coach himself.

Chris Autman-Bell is back to full strength after redshirting last season due to an injury suffered in fall camp. Fleck has taken every opportunity this spring to talk up Autman-Bell, praising his ability to get open and make a play on the ball.

Redshirt junior Matt Morse and redshirt sophomore Clay Geary, both walk-ons, could also factor into the rotation at wide receiver, as the pair have seen first- and second-team reps, respectively, this spring. But that might change once the true freshmen are on campus this fall. Both Rashod Bateman and Erik Gibson could see the field early in their careers. Jornell Manns is expected to redshirt this season after suffering a knee injury during basketball.

Next: Tight Ends