Between now and the Gophers' spring game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, April 9, we'll be breaking down each position group on both offense and defense. We'll take a look at who is leaving, who is coming back, and what to watch for before Minnesota takes the field for fall training camp.
As I'll do throughout these position breakdowns, I'd like to note that this position group features one of the team's captains, and that captain is Mitch Leidner.
A redshirt senior, Leidner is entering his third year as starting quarterback. The Gophers have not had a three-year starter at the quarterback position since four-year starter Adam Weber -- now an offensive graduate assistant with Minnesota -- graduated back in 2011. Leidner is coming off his best year under center for the Gophers, throwing for 2,701 yards and 14 touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 6 touchdowns. At the end of last season, Leidner was named MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl -- the Gophers' first bowl victory since 2004 -- in which he was 24-for-30 with 223 passing yards and 1 passing touchdown, plus the game-winning 13-yard touchdown run. There was a four-game stretch in 2015 that saw Leidner throw for more than 250 yards in each game, scoring 7 total touchdowns during that stretch. Leidner holds a career record of 14-13 as a starter. This also marks the third consecutive year Leidner has served as a team captain, a clear sign he has the respect of his teammates.
Key Departure(s): Chris Streveler and Jacques Perra
Key Returner(s): Mitch Leidner and Demry Croft
New Arrival(s): Seth Green and Mark Williams
As we all know, Leidner underwent foot surgery back in December, and he will be limited this spring. That means ample opportunities for sophomore Demry Croft, freshman Seth Green, and redshirt junior walk-on Conor Rhoda to see snaps under center as the offense adjusts to a new system under offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. Redshirt junior quarterback Chris Streveler has officially transitioned to wide receiver. Former walk-on Jacques Perra is also out of the mix after transferring to St. Thomas in the offseason for more playing time.
With all due respect to Rhoda, Croft and Green are the ones to watch this spring and into fall camp. Croft burned his redshirt last season as a freshman, a move questioned by many people outside the program, as he never saw anything close to meaningful playing time. He saw action in three games, completing 7-of-17 passes for 34 yards, with 9 rushing attempts for 38 yards. The coaching staff last season talked up Croft's potential, but downplayed the chances of an immediate impact, citing his raw talent.
Green is a Minnesota native who spent his senior season at a high school in Allen, Texas. Splitting snaps with another quarterback, Green completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,481 yards, and rushed for 865 yards, racking up 29 combined touchdowns. Coaches and scouts rave about his size, speed, and arm strength, and often praise his tireless work ethic. He was originally the top-ranked recruit in Minnesota before moving to Texas, where recruiting services like Rivals.com cooled on him during an up-and-down season.
Mark Williams is an incoming freshman quarterback (if that is where he ends up) who will not arrive until the fall, and is a likely candidate to redshirt this season.
Croft and Green are both, at this point, all potential, so it will be fun to watch the competition unfold between the two. I know there are still those that would like to see anyone but Leidner under center next season, but the chances of that are slim, assuming Leidner is healthy. But whoever nabs the back-up spot behind Leidner will likely be the early favorite to succeed him the following season.