If you want to know who’ll start at quarterback for the Gophers in 2018, you’ll have to be patient.
Coach P.J. Fleck on Tuesday morning met the media just before his team took to its new indoor practice facility for its first of 15 spring practices, and it surprisingly took four questions before the quarterback subject was raised.
“I don’t know yet,” Fleck said. “Today’s practice is the first time I’ll see some of those guys throw a pass, let alone when we go play in the fall.”
Fair enough, because spring practice is only one step toward selecting a starter. But Fleck did identify four candidates — redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan, junior college transfer Vic Viramontes, sophomore Seth Green and true freshman Zack Annexstad — in the mix to be under center for the Aug. 30 season opener vs. New Mexico State. They’re eager but inexperienced; none has thrown a pass in major college football.
“We all might look at it as, ‘Oh, no. We don’t have a quarterback that’s thrown a pass on the roster,’ ” Fleck said. “… That’s exciting to me.”
Fleck pointed out potential in each of the candidates.
On Morgan: “He has natural leadership ability, natural leadership skills. He’s not the biggest guy [6-2, 205 pounds] or the strongest guy, but he’s got that ‘it’ factor. He is a winner.”
On Viramontes, a sophomore transfer from Riverside (Calif.) City College: “I look at his tape a lot, I’ve watched the way he’s worked in winter conditioning. He’s very fast, very athletic, very quick.”
On Annexstad, an early enrollee from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who is from Norseland, Minn.: “He’s going to be right in the thick of things.”
The most intrigue surrounds Green, the former East Ridge standout who has impressed Fleck with his development, though there’s a chance he could play another position.
“Seth Green’s had a tremendous offseason. He might be one of the better athletes on our team,” Fleck said. “Is he going to be a quarterback? We’re going to find out in the spring. Seth and I have had very open talks about things. You might see him on some special teams. … He’s one of those guys who we have to find out what he truly is as we go forward, but he’s right in the thick of the quarterback battle.”
Fleck expects each QB to have equal practice time in spring until someone steps forward.
“We’re divvying up the reps, especially early,” he said. “Then as we go, whoever’s performing at a higher level, we’ll cut the reps according to them. That’s only fair. But everybody’s going to have a shot.”
Fleck also said he’d prefer to go with one quarterback, rather than two as he did last year, but “every option is open.”
Keeping him healthy
Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who missed the final eight games last year because of a hamstring injury, is healthy.
“Antoine Winfield Jr. has to prove nothing to me that he’s a great football player,” Fleck said. “… I want to make sure that he gets to Saturday and he can perform on Saturdays and continue to get better. For him, my job is, ‘OK, let’s do everything we can to keep you healthy in the spring.’ ”
• Linebackers Thomas Barber and Blake Cashman underwent offseason surgeries and will be limited to group work and noncontact drills in spring practice.
• Redshirt freshman Blaise Andries has moved from tackle to guard. “Thank goodness we redshirted Blaise Andries [last year] and didn’t get selfish,” Fleck said.
• Fleck said he wasn’t sure if 6-9, 400-pound true freshman Daniel Faalele will play guard or tackle. “Being an inside zone team, I’d prefer him being a guard,” he said. “That’s a big guard. But he could be a tackle. … He’s going to get a ton of reps in the spring.”
• Faalele was the star of the team’s tug-of-war competitions during winter conditioning.
“He didn’t lose one, and it wasn’t even close,” Fleck said. “He looked like a big, giant bear with everybody jumping on top of him at a kid’s birthday party.”