Nelson, Leidner give Gophers two promising quarterbacks

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2013 - 3:05 AM

Gophers coaches like the progress of Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner as spring practice wraps up.

hide

Mitch Leidner, left, and Philip Nelson are two promising young quarterbacks that coach Jerry Kill feels good about. Above, they took part in a strip-the-football drill in spring practice.

Photo: File photo by JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com ,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Saturday’s spring game will give the Gophers another chance to test young quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner, but after 14 spring practices, the coaching staff seems less worried about that position than one might expect.

The coaches have seen Nelson channel the hard lessons he learned last season, when he started seven games as a true freshman. They have seen Leidner blossom from a redshirt player to a solid backup option — at least.

“We’ve got a lot of other issues,” coach Jerry Kill said, listing linebacker depth at the top. “But we feel good about the quarterback position.”

Kill said it reminds him of his time at Southern Illinois, when the Salukis had Joel Sambursky and Nick Hill, or Northern Illinois, when the Huskies had Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. Each quarterback grew up fast.

In Nelson’s case and Leidner’s, neither 19-year-old carries himself like a kid one year out of high school. Each graduated from high school one semester early — Nelson from Mankato West, Leidner from Lakeville South — to enroll at Minnesota in time for spring practice last year.

Now, they have been through a full season and two spring camps.

“I feel like I’ve been here for a long time now,” Leidner said. “And I know since Philip’s played, he obviously feels like he’s been here for a long time. So we’re young, but we definitely understand what’s going on. We think we can compete at this level and help Minnesota win some games.”

Nelson trims down

The Gophers went 2-5 with Nelson as their starter last year. He completed 49.3 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also carried the ball nearly 10 times per game, finishing with 252 rushing yards.

After the season, the 6-2 Nelson shed nearly 10 pounds, trimming to about 215. He said he “cut off a lot of fat and gained some muscle.”

“When I got here, I had the false mind-set of wanting to put on weight and get bigger for the Big Ten,” Nelson said. “And then I realized that the most dangerous I’ll ever be is by being faster. And the fastest I’ve run in my life was probably when I was in high school, around 215.”

Nelson played through a hamstring injury last year, but it healed during the month leading to the bowl game.

“As the season went on, I thought he got worn down a little bit,” Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. “And then all of a sudden in the bowl game — I mean, Texas Tech is fast, but he was making people miss.”

Leidner speeds up

Nelson’s ability to both pass and run was apparent in high school, but the 6-4, 233-pound Leidner was a more traditional pocket passer at Lakeville South.

“Believe it or not, those two kids [Nelson and Leidner] are about the same speed,” Zebrowski said. “… Here’s why I’m so proud of Mitch: In high school, he was a drop back kid, never ran it. He came here and increased his speed. Now he can run away from people, and he’s 233.”

The Gophers will rely heavily on the run this fall, but they’ll need their quarterbacks to keep defenses honest, executing play-action passes. Leidner might have the better arm, but Nelson’s in-game experience has given him a better feel for reading defenses.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

LA Angels - LP: C. Rasmus 6 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: R. Webb 7
Seattle - WP: H. Iwakuma 5 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: T. Bauer 2
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Quintana 11 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 4
Washington - LP: S. Strasburg 0 FINAL
Miami - WP: H. Alvarez 3
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: D. Gee 0
Milwaukee - LP: W. Smith 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: A. Cobb 5
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 4 FINAL
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 0 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Leake 3
Colorado 3 Bottom 8th Inning
Chicago Cubs 3
NY Yankees 12 Top 9th Inning
Texas 9
Minnesota - WP: K. Gibson 2 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 1
Oakland - WP: E. Scribner 7 FINAL
Houston - LP: C. Qualls 4
Atlanta 3 Bottom 3rd Inning
Los Angeles 2
St. Louis 0 Top 5th Inning
San Diego 1
Pittsburgh 3 Bottom 5th Inning
San Francisco 1
NY Giants 8/3/14 7:00 PM
Buffalo
Winnipeg 7/31/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 8/1/14 6:00 PM
Montreal
Brt Columbia 8/1/14 9:00 PM
Calgary
Saskatchewan 8/2/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Connecticut 80 FINAL
Atlanta 89
Washington 76 FINAL
New York 80
Chicago 74 FINAL
San Antonio 92
Seattle 74 FINAL
Tulsa 80
Los Angeles 51 4th Qtr
Phoenix 66

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the Twins replace Ron Gardenhire?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close