Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell needs season-ending surgery on leg

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota announced that sixth-year wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell will have season-ending surgery on his right leg, a big loss for the unbeaten Gophers as they begin Big Ten play without their best pass catcher.

Autman-Bell was hurt in Minnesota’s 49-7 win over Colorado when he landed awkwardly while trying to catch on off-target throw in the second quarter. He grabbed his leg in pain, needed help leaving the field and was sent to a hospital for further examination.

“Your heart breaks for him, because he’s worked incredibly hard,” coach P.J. Fleck said.

Fleck didn’t specify the diagnosis, other than to describe the injury as to Autman-Bell’s lower leg. The Gophers will apply to the NCAA for a medical redshirt that would allow him to return for a seventh season, should he wish to.

The native of Kankakee, Illinois, who was in Fleck’s first recruiting class at Minnesota after flipping his commitment and following him from Western Michigan, redshirted that first year. The 2020 season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 1,970 career receiving yards, Autman-Bell ranks ninth in program history. He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass against Colorado before he was hurt. The team’s leading returning receiver from 2021, when he had 36 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns, Autman-Bell has again been quarterback Tanner Morgan‘s favored target.

The younger players around him at the position have developed to the point now where the depth ought not to drop off as sharply, with Michael Brown-Stephens, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson next in line.

“If this happens maybe three or four years ago, maybe it has a different vibe,” Fleck said.

The Gophers (3-0) play at Michigan State (2-1). Last season, they lost star running back Mohamed Ibrahim in the first game for the rest of the year.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen to you. It’s when, and to who,” Fleck said.

Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell needs season-ending surgery on leg originally appeared on NBCSports.com