Our look at three fresh faces to watch for each Big Ten team this season continues with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. These players are freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers or returnees ready to move into much bigger roles this season.
OFFENSE: Marcus Jones, WR, freshman, 5-8, 170
Minnesota needs more options in the passing game as one of its best receivers, MarQueis Gray, will be throwing passes this fall as the team's starting quarterback. Jones will have an immediate opportunity to contribute and might even crack the starting lineup Sept. 3 at USC. The diminuitive freshman has caught on quickly and impressed the coaches both on and off the field. Top wideout Da'Jon McKnight will be limited in camp because of a knee injury, so Jones has an opportunity to boost his stock as he competes alongside Brandon Green and others.
DEFENSE: Brendan Beal, LB, sophomore, 6-3, 245
Beal comes to Minnesota from Florida, where he redshirted in 2008 and missed the 2009 season because of an injury. He provides depth to a linebacker corps that will be Minnesota's strength on defense this season. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys called Beal one of the unit's top performers this spring, and Beal likely will split time at middle linebacker with Gary Tinsley. A decorated high school player, Beal boasts the tools to be a difference-maker for Minnesota. His long layoff from playing games is a concern, but if and when he shakes off the rust, look out.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Hawthorne, K, 6-4, 198
Minnesota needs a starting kicker and Hawthorne, a transfer from NC State, is in line for the top job. Hawthorne walked on at NC State and appeared in three games last season, converting five PAT attempts and a 25-yard field-goal attempt against Wake Forest. Eligible to play immediately at Minnesota, Hawthorne can punt if needed but likely will take over the place-kicking duties this fall. He only kicked for one year in high school, so he's relatively new to the game.
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