In 2012, the Gophers started the season in a somewhat comfortable position. With senior QB MarQueis Gray back at quarterback there was hope that he would live up to high expectations and have a big final season with the Gophers. Of course, it all went to hell and we ended up with true freshman Philip Nelson picking up the pieces and starting in his first bowl game; a very close loss to Texas Tech.
Injuries forced Jerry Kill to adjust and thanks to a solid defense and some early wins, the Gophers ended up 6-7. In the end Philip Nelson got 7 games under his under his belt and gained valuable experience. This is especially important since the Red Romper Max Shortell decided to transfer to Jacksonville State when he saw that he wasn't Chandler Harnish-y enough.
Nelson led the Gophers in passing yardage, TDs and INTs despite completing just 49.3% of his passes. Nelson also ran for 252 yards (184 net) which is an important piece of Matt Limegrover's offense. Last year we saw him Leroy Hoard his head into the line repeatedly like a fullback.
His consistency obviously needs to improve in order for the Gophers to reach new heights in 2013. At times his touch was immaculate and he was able to put the ball right in the receivers hands. Check out the touch on these long passes against Purdue last season:
Ah glory day - man they were great that game. By all accounts Nelson has been a leader in the off-season and continues to improve in practices. Kill mentioned that with Nelson getting some experience last year and Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler behind him, "[W]e feel good about our quarterback situation and we feel like that's going to be a strength down the road here." Nelson was on point in the Gopher spring game, completing 10-10 passes in the first half and 13-17 for the game (thanks to some awful drops). His 179 yards passing exceeded each of his last 4 starts in 2012. He also ran for 31 yards int he spring game.
Red-shirt freshman Mitch Leidner is the back-up to Nelson. He's listed at 6'4" and a beastly 233 pounds out of Lakeville, MN. Leidner is a guy that gets a ton of credit from coaches for his work ethic and ability in practice.
Matt Limegrover describes Leidner's improvement in the running game (source): "But he's a great example of a guy who, if you just looked at the stopwatch, you would not think he's a very good runner," Limegrover said. "Mitch is that rare case when he puts the pads on he maintains if not gets a little (faster). I can't explain it. He knew to be able to run our offense he had to be able to run and be more athletic. I give him credit because he really worked on it."
Recently the coaching staff has given more and more indications they want to use Leidner from time to time in games. "You don't want your starter getting hit all the time," coach Jerry Kill said at his pre-camp news conference Tuesday. "If there's a deal where you can sprinkle somebody in there, then that helps you later on down the road." Henceforth, we shall call Mitch "The Sprinkle".
It gets a little murky after the top two. Freshmen Chris Streveler and Donovahn Jones are possibilities, but they are also going to be tried at WR. This scares me for our WR group considering we have several with experience that are seemingly brushed aside. Streveler is a 6'2", 209 lb dual threat type QB out of Marian Central Catholic in Illinois. As a senior he combined for 48 total TDs with just 4 INTs. He had 1200+ rushing and nearly 2700 passing yards. At this point he's more of a runner than QB, but he's a freshman.
|Streveler at the Spring Game|
Donovahn Jones is a 6'3" 190lb quarterback out of Stockbridge, GA. Jones is also a 3 star guy according to Rivals and a dual threat QB. He had 1600 passing and 600 rushing as a senior. He also caught a few passes, so maybe he has some receiving skills that can be honed. Ideally, neither of the freshman QBs are relied upon so they can be red-shirted this season. If both Nelson and Leidner go down, we're screwed, people.