In the offseason, the Gophers lost Devin Crawford-Tufts and Andre McDonald — two of the team’s most talented wide receivers.
They might have just lost a third.
Senior Derrick Engel went down with a knee injury during practice Sunday afternoon.
Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said at his Tuesday press conference that he would not comment on whether Engel tore his anterior cruciate ligament until he knew test results.
“He [got] banged up,” Kill said. “We’ll know more as the process goes with his doctor. At this point in time, he’ll get an MRI.”
Engel leads Minnesota with 401 receiving yards this season. He had four receiving touchdowns during the Gophers’ four-game winning streak.
That would be a lot of production for Minnesota to replace.
Kill said the team’s freshman receivers will need to be ready to fill the void if Engel is out for the season.
“We’ve got some young guys that are playing [receiver],” Kill said. “I’m going to tell them, ‘Hey, you’re sophomores now. You’ve gone through … games. You’ve got to play like a sophomore.’”
So far, the Gophers’ freshmen receivers have showed promise.
Donovahn Jones came into camp as a quarterback but now lines up outside. He’s shown an ability to make big plays catching passes or taking handoffs.
Drew Wolitarsky has made a few receptions this season, too, but could play a much bigger role Saturday against Wisconsin if Engel is out.
Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson said Wolitarsky has been improving steadily.
“Every single week, he gets better and better,” Nelson said. “He’ll be just fine out there.”
The Gophers have also gotten production from redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams, who’s second on the team with 299 receiving yards. Williams has stepped up in certain situations this season, including a game-winning 50-yard touchdown catch in the game at Indiana.
“Maxx Williams is a tight end, but he really can play inside receiver,” Kill said. “We try to mix and play around with personnel groupings all the time.”
While potentially losing a top receiver before one of the biggest games in a decade isn’t ideal, injuries are nothing new for Minnesota.
Gophers defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun is out for the season with a knee injury, and center Jon Christenson is sidelined for the rest of the year with a leg injury. Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. have both missed time at running back this season, too.
“Coach [Matt] Limegrover says, ‘You’ve got to be ready. You’re one play away from being in there,’” offensive lineman Ed Olson said. “Everyone treats it like we’re starters.”
When Christenson went down in Minnesota’s win over Indiana, Olson’s younger brother Tommy replaced him, and the offense didn’t skip a beat.
Still, as a junior, Tommy Olson has more experience than Jones, Wolitarsky or Williams.
The trio has shown flashes of potential this season, but if Engel can’t play, the group of freshman receivers will need to have sustained success.
“Derrick’s a great receiver,” Nelson said. “It will be a loss if we do lose him.”