Poaching an idea from my esteemed colleague Andrea Adelson, I'm going to take a look at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home-run type of summer before preseason camp begins. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?
Leading off: Minnesota
Who needs to step it up: The running backs and receivers
MarQueis Gray has a chance to be a very good quarterback for Minnesota this fall. He'll be entering his second full season as the starter after spending most of his time as a receiver in his first two years. Gray rushed for 966 yards and showed flashes as a passer at times. He also should have greater comfort in his second year in Matt Limegrover's offense. Here's the problem: on paper, Gray might have the weakest supporting cast in the Big Ten entering the season. Minnesota's leading returning receiver, Brandon Green, had 15 receptions last season. The Gophers' top returning running back, Donnell Kirkwood, averaged just 3.6 yards per rush on 63 carries in 2011.
Although Gray has the skill set to make a lot of things happen, he'll need some help and some reliable options before the Aug. 30 opener at UNLV. Who will fill the receiving production void left by the underrated Da'Jon McKnight? Green seemingly has been around forever, but whether he can fill the role of reliable veteran remains to be seen. Marcus Jones showed promise as a true freshman and made an incredible recovery from a torn ACL, but he remains largely unproven at receiver. There also are some exciting incoming players like Jamel Harbison. Equally important is Minnesota's ability to complement Gray in the run game. Kirkwood and David Cobb both dealt with injuries this spring, while junior college arrival James Gillum generated some buzz with his performance. It's a big summer for all three men as they try to restore Minnesota's rep as an elite rushing team.
Minnesota needs some home-run threats around Gray, but it also needs some singles and doubles hitters.