The Gophers have prepared a game plan for Saturday's game against Northwestern that won't change no matter who takes the snaps, Jerry Kill said Wednesday. So while he and his coaches will discuss MarQueis Gray's role on Thursday, no decision must be made until Saturday morning.
"We're not changing," Kill said. "We could play either [quarterback]. Our game plan's going to be flexible enough to do that."
Gray practiced for the third time in four days Wednesday, though the Gophers weren't in full pads, and continues to show steady improvement, the coach said. "He moved around. He's not 100 percent, but he's moving better than he was a week ago," Kill said. "The biggest thing is getting his timing back, getting ready to throw. He's knocking the rust off, trying to see if he's going to play or not. I think he's got a chance."
Kill said his coaches have considered playing Gray "15 or 20 plays" behind understudy Max Shortell, similar to a two-quarterback setup he used for a while at Northern Illinois. "You'd consider doing that type of thing. Is that a possibility? Sure it is, if he's ready to do that," Kill said.
But "I don't know if he's ready to take a hit," the coach added, emphasizing that he won't play a quarterback who's limping around, who isn't yet 100 percent. "It's easy to go out here [at practice] and not get touched. You get in a game and get pushed, are you going to be able to do that? That's the thing you don't know. I thought Tuesday he was a little timid. Today, he was a little bit better."
Olson, Mottla improving
Left guard Tommy Olson is healthy enough to play if needed, Kill said, but Jon Christenson probably will start in order to give Olson another week to heal his sprained ankle. Same goes for center Zack Mottla; offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Zac Epping will remain in the middle, with Caleb Bak manning Epping's left guard spot, while Mottla works his way back.
Safety Brock Vereen, limited by a knee injury to passing downs at Iowa, will be fully available against the Wildcats.
Shortell remains confident
He might have thrown three interceptions against the Hawkeyes, but Shortell's confidence has not wavered, Kill said. That stems in part, the coach said, from Shortell's experience leading Bishop Miege High School to the Class 4A Kansas state championship three years ago.
"There's something to be said for recruiting a quarterback that's won a state championship, that's been successful," Kill said. "When you know how to win, you've had some critics along the way. You've probably thrown some bad balls. You're going to take some hits, but it's how you respond."
Shortell responded well, he said, taking responsibility for his mistakes -- even though Kill himself said the QB wasn't as much to blame for the interceptions as his receivers -- and working hard during the bye week. "Max has played well. The more Max plays, the better he'll get," Kill said. "He was put in some tough situations [at Iowa] where, yeah, he'd like to have a couple of throws back."