Da'Jon McKnight is a fast learner.
The Minnesota receiver didn't play football in his sophomore or junior years of high school as he focused on basketball instead. Despite that lack of experience, he blossomed into one of the Big Ten's best wideouts last year as a junior. McKnight caught 46 balls for 75o yards, and only Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher had more than his 10 touchdown grabs.
Imagine what McKnight can do now that he's really starting to understand the game.
"I feel like I've learned a whole lot," he said. "I know about routes and what the defense is trying to do, whether it's a Cover 2 or a Trap 2. I've learned little techniques to help my game.
"I feel like I can double my catches this year. But it's all about the team winning and being more consistent."
McKnight has always had good size at 6-foot-3. He says his body is more sculpted now at a solid 210 pounds, after playing at about 208 last year. He's paying more attention to his nutrition; instead of his regular stops at McDonald's for a breakfast burrito, he's turning to bagels, apples and protein bars to start his morning.
Interestingly enough, the Gophers' second-leading receiver last year was MarQueis Gray, who is now the team's quarterback. While Gray may still need to learn the finer points of quarterback play, he and McKnight have great chemistry after playing the same position together last year. And there should be no misunderstandings between the quarterbacks and receivers.
"He knows how it is to play receiver," McKnight said. "He knows sometimes we have jammed fingers. He knows when to throw it hard and when to put some touch on it. I think playing receiver will really help him out."
Former quarterback Adam Weber always knew to look McKnight's way in the red zone last year. McKnight is hoping he and Gray form that same connection.
"I told him, from the 20-yard line on in, the jump ball is always an option," he said. "If you ever get in trouble, you can't go wrong throwing the jump ball to me."
We'll see whether defenses can learn how to stop that.