Thursday, Apr. 15, 2021



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Gophers Need ‘Special’ Freshmen WRs


One benefit of no season this fall for the Golden Gophers football team is coach P.J. Fleck and his staff will have extended time to address the departure of wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson who accounted for 78 percent of the catches on last year’s 11-2 team ranked No. 10 in the nation in the Associated Press final poll.

The staff prides itself on developing players including wide receivers, an assignment that assistant Matt Simon excels at along with Fleck who played the position in college. Fleck wasn’t just talking about WR development, but it fit when he recently said: “More time we have to build our team, the better we’re going to be.”

Football authority Ryan Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated, agrees. “This break or cancellation (of the fall season) isn’t the worst thing for this offense,” he told Sports Headliners.

It’s a given that in the team’s spread offense Chris Autman-Bell and Demetrius Douglas will hold down two spots, with the third spot up for grabs.  The way Burns sees it Douglas Emilien and Daniel Jackson, true freshmen, are favorites.  He said reports from summer workouts and practices are “those two are going to be special.”

Ryan Burns

Burns focuses much of his work on Minnesota recruiting and earlier this year Emilien told him he wants to win the Biletnikoff Award given annually to the nation’s top college receiver. Emilien is a high three-star recruit, while Jackson is a four-star. “Both of them have very high expectations for themselves coming in,” Burns said. “I think that certainly plays a part in them showing up every day and doing the work, because they want to be great.”

If the Gophers had a scrimmage today, who might join Autman-Bell and Douglas in the wide receivers lineup?  “I think Emilien is a little bit ahead of Jackson from what I’ve heard,” Burns answered.

Among Emilien’s attributes is his ability to get open, while Burns described Jackson as “very quick and very fast.”  Jackson isn’t as fast as Bateman yet but could get closer as he develops.  “Rashod is going to be making a lot of money in the NFL in seven months because of his deep speed,” Burns said.

It will take a combo effort to replace Johnson and Bateman as receivers, and Burns anticipates a potential breakout year from redshirt sophomore tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford helping the cause.  “I can’t express to you enough how high Minnesota is on his potential,” Burns said. “…He can make very acrobatic catches.  He can jump out of the gym.  He is a mismatch nightmare.”

At about 6-7 and 260-pounds, with athleticism and speed, Spann-Ford is projected as too quick for linebackers and too big for corners and safeties to effectively cover in pass routes. While Spann-Ford will often be next to a tackle while on the line of scrimmage, Burns predicts the former St. Cloud star will also be positioned out in space like a wide receiver.

Worth Noting

Fleck talking about the importance of honest communication with his players: “You can’t say something to a kid that is B.S. Not in 2020.”

Commissioner Kevin Warren, who helped shape the Big Ten’s decision to not have a football season, speaks to the Capital Club next Monday via zoom.  University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel and athletic director Mark Coyle headline a Twin Cities Dunkers zoom meeting next Wednesday to talk about the future of Gopher athletics.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is starting year three with the Vikings.  Coach Mike Zimmer has seen development including Cousins’ willingness to express the way he sees things in meetings.  “He just seems to be more communicative,” Zimmer said this morning.

Alexander Mattison had an impressive rookie season in 2019 while backing up Dalvin Cook.  Zimmer said Mattison looks quicker to him now than last year. “I think he’s going to be a very good back,” Zimmer added.

Twins TV broadcaster Dick Bremer reacting last night to partner Bert Blyleven speculating Minnesota pitcher Kenta Maeda, throwing a no-hitter through eight innings, wouldn’t be allowed to pitch in the ninth: “Really.”

Blyleven likely figured manager Rocco Baldelli was going to take Maeda out of the game because his pitch count was over 100.  Maeda started the ninth and lost his no-hitter when Milwaukee Brewer Eric Sogard hit a soft liner into the outfield to open the inning.

That was it for Maeda (115 pitches) who Baldelli pulled for closer Taylor Rogers who has been ineffective of late.  Before the ninth was over Rogers had given up two runs and Maeda was charged with another as the Brewers tied the game 3-3.  The Twins earned a walk-off win in the 12th inning, 4-3.  This was the fourth time in five days Minnesota won a game scoring four runs.

Limited-edition Twins Hall of Fame bobblehead sets are being sold by the club for $499 each. The set features bobbleheads of all 34 members of the Twins Hall of Fame.  Net proceeds benefit the Twins Community Fund.

Condolences to family and friends of Jake Mauer following his death last week.  He was a friend of this writer, and he loved to talk about his grandson Joe Mauer, and also horse racing at Canterbury Park.  When Joe was young, Jake helped groom the baseball skills of the former Twin.  For many years the St. Paul native sold his racing tip sheet at Canterbury Park.

Minnesota sports fans know Glen Taylor best for his ownership of the Timberwolves and Lynx but he has other companies, too, including the Star Tribune, and employs a total of about 12,000 people.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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