After top two quarterbacks, Gophers have to develop a No. 3

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2013 - 11:02 AM

Three freshmen are in the mix to be the U's third-string signal-caller.

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Donovahn Jones, a freshman from Dutchtown High School in Stockbrige, Ga., is in the mix to be the Gophers' third-string quarterback.

Photo: Derrick Mahone, Henry Daily Herald

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The Gophers played three quarterbacks last year in MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Philip Nelson, so they saw the importance of that third spot. This year, the coaches feel fully confident in what they have in Nelson and Mitch Leidner, but after that, there’s quite a gap.

The Gophers have three true freshmen quarterbacks in camp — Chris Streveler, Donovahn Jones and walk-on Conor Rhoda. Streveler got a head start by enrolling in January and going through spring practice.

But as coach Jerry Kill said about Jones on Sunday, “If you saw Donovahn the first day [of camp] to today, he’s just getting better and better and better.”

The Gophers also have questions at receiver, and both Streveler and Jones have been mentioned as candidates to move there. That would be an alternative to taking a redshirt season and quarterbacking the scout team.

“Anything I can do to help the team this season,” Streveler said. “Whether it’s being a backup quarterback and just running the scout team, or possibly getting on the field at a different position — whatever helps the team I’m willing to do.”

Asked Sunday when Streveler might see time at receiver, Kill said that will depend partly on how Jones progresses at quarterback and partly on how quickly some receivers develop. Kill mentioned Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky as two freshmen receivers who are picking things up quickly.

The No. 3 quarterback spot “is not a concern,” Kill said. “We’ve got talent there, it’s just who it’s going to be.”

Harbison feels stronger

The Gophers believed Jamal Harbison was their best wide receiver in camp last fall — as a freshman. He started the season’s first game but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first quarter against UNLV.

Harbison said the knee was back to 95 percent in the spring game, when he caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Now, he’s back to full strength, if not better.

“I feel way better than I did before the injury,” he said. “My knee is stronger. I feel healthier. And of course, I know the playbook better.”

Olson moves to center

Tommy Olson started six games at left guard for the Gophers as a sophomore last year, but now he’s the second string center behind starter Jon Christenson.

The Gophers lost two centers coming into camp, as Zach Mottla retired from a severe leg injury and Brian Bobek is recovering from heart virus. Last year, the Gophers needed three centers because of injuries, and depth there could be important again with Christenson coming off ankle surgery.

Olson said he had never played center before college but wound up practicing his first two days there with the Gophers. He kept firing balls over the quarterbacks head, so he didn’t think he’d return until he had a meeting with offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover after spring practice.

“I got a little nervous, so I started doing like 100 [snaps] a day, every day in the summer, with anyone I could grab, like my dad,” Olson said. “It’s coming along. I had a couple rough ones [Sunday], but it’s coming.”

Etc.

• Cornerback Derrick Wells wore a green non-contact jersey Sunday after jamming his shoulder into the ground in Saturday’s practice. Kill said the shoulder is bruised but that Wells had better movement on Sunday.

• According to GopherIllustrated.com, Chanhassen offensive tackle Frank Ragnow — will visit Florida, Florida State and Alabama this week. The Gophers have been working tirelessly to get Ragnow, but it’s possible he will become the second Minnesota recruit to commit to Alabama, joining East Ridge center J.C. Hassenauer.

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