Oct 27, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver MarQueis Gray (5) looks on during the third quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers defeated the Boilermakers 44-28. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Just one week ago, MarQueis Gray was fighting to make in the NFL as a tight end. The former quarterback and wide receiver for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers is now jobless and looking for what the world may bring his way. He was cut by the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
The rookie was turning some heads with talent observers in the bay area and many thought he was going to make the 53-man roster that the 49ers had to be down to by Sat. With the release of Gray from the San Francisco preseason roster, he may be down, but not out just yet.
Gray is now waiting to see if he will be named to the eight-man practice squad by the 49ers. Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks there a chance that Gray does just that, “They can begin building an eight-man practice squad today, and some of the rookies cut Saturday, such as cornerback Marcus Cooper and tight end MarQueis Gray, could be brought back.”
Of the 21 players cut by the 49ers on Sat., 15 are eligible to be named to practice squad. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to call it his “opportunity squad”. Gray would have an “opportunity” to be signed to the San Fran practice squad if he clears waivers first. If he makes it through the 31 other teams without being claimed, he is able to sign with any team that he likes.
Historically, NFL rookies and other young players sign to the practice squad of the team that brought them in for camp. Gray would likely take the same path as he is at a position with little competition in San Francisco and within a year or two, he could become a starter on a Super Bowl caliber team.
Size and athleticism have never been a problem for the Gophers alum. Coaches tried to find rolls for him in the Minnesota offense for years to take advantage of his talents. Quarterback and wide receiver were the only two offensive positions that Gray started at in college, but if his recruitment were with a stronger program, would he have been converted to tight end from the beginning?
Players like Ra’Shede Hageman, Donovahn Jones, and K.J. Maye are all currently helping the Gophers at a position that they were not originally recruited for. In the case of Hageman, his conversion could take him to the NFL next season.
If Gray would have had three or four years as a tight end in college with Minnesota or any other college, would he have been an All-Conference player at the position and a NFL draft pick? Most likely.
To go from never blocking defensive ends and linebackers consistently in college, to fighting through a NFL training camp blocking those exact players, and then making it within a man or two from the league is very impressive. Learning a new position and developing the necessary technique to succeed at the highest level doesn’t come quickly and Gray almost did it in four months.
If or when Gray gets another opportunity with a NFL team, the position of tight end should be his focus. With the switch, he could stake his claim as one of the great Golden Gopher tight ends of All-Time, to never play the position in Dinkytown.