So if you've been reading the interwebs or the good ol' fashioned sports section of the newspapers this week you've likely run across a Mitch Leidner story or six. All of them good reading, mind you, but all with the same basic premise- Mitch is THE guy at quarterback and the new leader for the Gophers heading into 2014. Once Philip Nelson left for the State University of New Jersey that has apparently freed "The Moose" to become the leader of the team, and has been acting like it ever since. Per Joe C's Strib story:
With coaches unable to attend offseason passing drills, they have trusted Leidner to run workouts the way they would.
“He’s been awesome,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “I think Mitch looks at himself as the starter, and the undisputed leader of the offense, and probably the team. And so there’s a confidence about him. He’s the guy holding other guys accountable.”
Organizing offseason workouts, grilling out (Canadians call it "barbequeing" but whatever), group outings, sleepovers...ok fine maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. He's trying to bring the offense together and get them going for 2014. Now, I know the pessimists/skeptics/realists will tell you that it's a great story but all the offseason leadership in the world won't change anything if he can't complete passes on a consistent basis and get the passing offense out of the ditch. And of course we're not REALLY going to know that until the opener in late August anyway vs Eastern Illinois (that is unless Limey decides to not throw at all in the non-con like he did last year. REALLY hoping that's not the case).Sure, there's some truth to that- like spring training in baseball when everybody's in "the best shape of their life!" everything is all "puppy dogs and ice cream" for spring football too. Still, unlike spring training baseball where guys can work out as much as they want and have seven months of games and practices ahead for their season, in college football it's 15 practices over the next month, then another long stretch until practices fire up again in August. True, spring ball is far from an exact simluation of real games, but the practice time they'll get this next month is definitely meaningful, and definitely matters in getting Leidner and the other QB's better prepared to run the offense and throw the football much better than they did last season. We're just not going to know HOW meaningful it will be until the season begins.
But it still makes the quarterback situation an interesting one to watch this spring. If Mitch is the undisputed QB1, then who is QB2? And 3 for that matter? The Gophers have played at least two quarterbacks in all three seasons under Jerry Kill, so it's possible that whoever wins the backup job won't just be holding a clipboard all year, but could see some playing time. Remember, Philip Nelson was the undisputed QB1 at this time last year coming off a promising freshman season, and we all know how that turned out. It's not out of the realm of possibility one of these next three gentlemen sees the field at QB in 2014.
Chris Streveler's name is usually the first mentioned as the backup QB and for those who doubt Leidner, the best hope of pushing him for the starting job. He was a good prospect out of Illinois, and had a full year to learn the system as a redshirt. He's faster and more athletic than Leidner but who knows about his passing skills. Honestly, Leidner came in as a "passing" QB out of high school and somehow looked worse in college throwing than he ever did at Lakeville South, so who knows where Streveler's at with his mechanics and confidence until we see him out there. In high school he was considered a solid passer as he attemped 250 passes as a senior completing an impressive 68% for 2662 yards with 26 TD's and just 4 picks. Numbers like those along with his running ability are what have the coaches excited about his future. Considering he's just a year behind Leidner, you have to wonder that if he doesn't push Leidner for the starting spot this year, will he change positions (he's athletic enough to try receiver) or look to transfer like Nelson and Max Shortell have done? Or is he comfortable biding his time?
Still, as well regarded as Streveler was and is, that doesn't mean the path is clear for him to challenge Leidner. Per this story from Nate Sandell from a few months ago, former Cretin star and walk-on Conor Rhoda really impressed the coaches last season:
There is building intrigue surrounding who will compete with Leidner at quarterback. When true freshman third-team QB Chris Streveler injured his hand early in the season, fellow freshman Conor Rhoda took over the primary scout team QB duties. He remained in that spot for the remainder of the year, with Streveler not returning to practice until the season's final weeks.
Rhoda, in similar fashion as Leidner the year before him, received high praise from Kill and the coaching staff for his scout team work throughout the season.
Hmmm, intruiging indeed. Rhoda's numbers at CDH were solid in his senior season with 1380 yds passing and 19 TD's with 550 rush and three more scores, and was also a D-1 baseball recruit. While he's come from a bit off the radar, expect Rhoda to be right there with Streveler at the start of camp.
But hang on, there's still one more competitor in the race for Mitch Leidner's Backup this spring, and while he's the youngest and least experienced, he may be the most talented of the bunch. True freshman Dimonic Roden-McKinzy is a consensus three star recruit per 247 sports from KC who enrolled in January so he can participate in spring drills. A two-time all-state QB with offers from Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, McKinzy is a true dual-threat quarterback perfectly suited for this offense. We'll find out in the next 15 practices whether he's ready now, or will need to redshirt and develop for a few seasons.
There's also the potential for two more QB's to join the fray this summer as a couple of true freshmen will be on campus. Roseville's Jacques Perra is a preferred walk-on who had a monster senior season that earned him first team all-state and the Minnesota Gatorade, Star Tribune and Pioneer Press Player of the Year awards. He threw for over 3100 yards and 35 TD's(!!!) while running a little bit too (347 and 4 scores) and makes you wonder just how this kid couldn't get some D1 offers? His only scholarship offer was from 1-AA South Dakota, and also had looks from Iowa State, Harvard and the horrible place that is UND and Grand Forks, North Dakota. Like Rhoda this past season and Leidner the year before, don't be surprised to hear the coaches gushing about Perra after this season.
The other potential QB is listed as a wide receiver on the official roster in true freshman Conner Krizancic. A solid receiver prospect out of Ohio, he was switched to QB as a senior this past season and put up some pretty incredible numbers- 3230 yds and 32 TD's passing while also rushing for another 1455 yards and 23 TD's while leading his team to a 13-2 record and the State Championship game. You're telling me he doesn't deserve at least a chance to try QB this fall? Coach Limegrover wouldn't rule it out during a signing day chat on Gophersports.com, and really, they'd be crazy not to at least see what he can do there before moving him to receiver.
It's a very young and very inexperienced group of quarterbacks behind Leidner (who himself is still very young and inexperienced compared to the rest of the conference), but it's a group that's not lacking for talent, and should make for a very interesting spring and summer to see if any of them can beat out Leidner, or at least grab the #2 QB job.
A reminder that all 15 practice sessions are open to the public with everything except the spring game on April 12 scheduled to be indoors at the Gibson-Nagurksi Football Complex. If you haven't been to one of these in person, I can't recommend them enough.