Quarterback MarQueis Gray's sore left leg felt better Tuesday morning, but the Gophers will proceed as though he will be unavailable to play Saturday. That means Max Shortell will get his third career start, when the 3-0 Gophers meet Syracuse in TCF Bank Stadium, and freshman Philip Nelson will prepare as his backup.
      "I talked to (Gray) yesterday, and said, 'Your goal is to try to be the backup on Saturday, and be prepared for it,' " Kill said at his weekly news conference. "That's a pretty drastic goal, but you've got to have something to shoot for. We'll see how it works out."
     Gray's left knee and ankle were bent at awkward angles as he was being tackled during the second quarter of Minnesota's 28-23 victory over Western Michigan, and his leg went numb. "We thought it was a situation where this could be a long time," Kill said. But the senior quarterback is already reporting progress as he tries to heal.
     "He was very sore yesterday, and I think Ed (Lochrie, the Gophers' athletic trainer) is going to try to move him around a little bit today," Kill said. If Gray could somehow heal quickly enough to serve as Shortell's backup, "that's a great thing," Kill said. "But (planning for his absence) is the approach we'll take."
     Having Gray available for an emergency might be important, considering both of the Gophers' other two quarterbacks, Nelson and Mitch Leidner, are both true freshman that Kill intends to redshirt this season. Entering a game for even one play would foil those plans and cost the freshman a year of eligibility.
     Has Kill game-planned for a brief Shortell absence, someone to handle a play or two? "We'll have a plan," Kill joked. "That's why I'm dressed like this, haven't shaved yet. We'll have a plan."

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