The competition for the Gophers’ starting quarterback job is starting to take shape during spring practice, and on Tuesday the number of candidates to be under center for the Aug. 30 season opener against New Mexico State decreased by one.
Seth Green, a third-year sophomore and former East Ridge standout, practiced with the tight ends for the first time, and coach P.J. Fleck said Green could play there or at wide receiver.
“I don’t want to move people just to move them around. We’re going to see how good he is there,’’ said Fleck, who earlier hinted that Green might be moving another position. “… He’s a great athlete. It’s his first day, and he looked like he was doing it the whole time, but he just didn’t have great technique.’’
Fleck’s rationale: Get the 6-4, 229-pound athlete on the field to contribute, even in a depth role.
“A guy like Seth Green is incredibly valuable on special teams and incredibly valuable toward depth at tight end or wide receiver,’’ he said. “Instead of sitting on the bench, we can use him now.’’
With Green changing positions, the competition for the starting job comes down to redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan, junior college transfer Vic Viramontes and true freshman Zack Annexstad, an early enrollee for the spring semester.
Morgan took first-team reps during Tuesday’s practice, the ninth of 15 spring sessions, while Viramontes and Annexstad shared second-team time.
Fleck challenged his QBs, both in Tuesday’s practice and last Thursday’s scrimmage.
“We’re putting them in very chaotic, very tough positions — and sometimes putting them in a position where they might not be successful and see how they respond to it,’’ he said. “And see if they can get themselves out of it.
“Towards the end during the two-minute drill, you could see how young and inexperienced we are,’’ Fleck added. “Sometimes that stage is too big for somebody at this point, sometimes it’s not.’’
Annexstad, from Norseland, Minn., played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and has emerged as a quick study.
“Nothing rattles him — nothing,’’ Fleck said. “He was one of the best ones today in terms of the two-minute [drill]. Looked like he’d been out there for five years.’’
At IMG, Annexstad began the 2017 season as the backup to Rutgers-bound Artur Sitkowski but won the job for the Ascenders. He joined the Gophers as a preferred walk-on, turning down scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Illinois, among others. “There’s a reason why we really wanted him,’’ Fleck said.
Fleck has said he won’t decide on his starter until fall camp, but he likes the competition. “You can see the battle amongst those three start to take form,’’ he said. “It’s a true battle.’’
Freshman offensive guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., another early enrollee from IMG Academy, missed practice because of a lower leg injury. Fleck said he will be out a few weeks.
Coaches set for spring game
Fleck announced the coaching staffs for the spring game at noon April 14 at TCF Bank Stadium. A draft will be held to select teams. The staffs:
Maroon team (captained by linebacker Thomas Barber): Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca will serve as the head coach, and his assistants will be defensive line coach Joe Rossi, running backs coach Kenni Burns, offensive graduate assistant David Kekuewa, offensive graduate assistant Drew Moulton, defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae and special teams coach/outside linebackers coach Rob Wenger.
Gold team (captained by running back Rodney Smith): Defensive coordinator Robb Smith will serve as head coach, and his assistants will be wide receivers coach Matt Simon, tight ends coach Clay Patterson, defensive line pass rush specialist coach Marcus West, offensive line coach Brian Callahan, defensive graduate assistant Donald Celiscar and special teams graduate assistant Michael Priefer Jr.