The Gophers quarterback battle probably won’t be decided during spring football camp, based on comments from coach P.J. Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.
“I doubt it’ll be settled by the end of spring ball, but I think we’ll have a better idea of who’s really in this race,” Ciarrocca said Tuesday.
Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft appear to be the leading contenders, judging from who’s been getting the first reps in the various drills. Seth Green and Tanner Morgan are two others in the running.
“Really, I’m staying very open-minded at this point in time,” Ciarrocca said. “We’re still in that evaluation stage of letting them make mistakes. And then, do they make the same mistake again? Do they learn from it and grow?”
Ciarrocca runs a spread offense featuring the run-pass option, which forces the quarterback to make several quick decisions. He estimates that about 60 percent of the offense has been installed.
Beyond learning a new system, the Gophers have been working with a skeleton offensive line. For the past two practices, they’ve had only four healthy offensive linemen, which has prevented them from doing any full-speed, 11-on-11 drills.
So they’ve been doing extra 7-on-7 work and conducting their 11-on-11 drills at a walk-through pace, with some of the linemen recovering from surgery participating in a noncontact role.
With Bronson Dovich (unspecified injury) day to day, the Gophers hope to get back to five healthy offensive linemen for a few practices ahead of their April 15 spring game.
“Right now, we’re still evaluating,” Fleck said, referring to all the positions. “There’s 22 guys with surgery, out. I don’t know how many decisions are going to be made in the spring. It’s more of just digesting it, learning it, growing from it.”
Speaking earlier in camp, Rhoda predicted the starting QB decision would take a while.
“I’m not too worried about making perfect throws,” the fifth-year senior said. “Right now, it’s about learning how to practice in this system. I think in August, that’s when the true percentages, all that competition will come. That’s when they’ll narrow it down.”
Who’s the boss?
Ed Warinner is the Gophers offensive line coach and run-game coordinator. He came to Minnesota after sharing offensive coordinator duties at Ohio State.
Here’s how Fleck explained the Gophers’ arrangement: “Coach Ciarrocca calls all the plays. [Tight ends coach] Brian Callahan and Coach Warinner are on a separate headset, so they’ll talk back and forth. When Coach Ciarrocca wants a run, he’ll get the suggestions from them and then call from there. But Coach Ciarrocca’s in charge of everything.”
• Cornerback Kiondre Thomas suffered a minor lower-body injury, further depleting the team’s depth at that position.
• Fleck had a special visitor at practice, a youngster nicknamed “Squeak” who has been a patient both at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“He is like my best friend,” Fleck said. “I made sure that he was at practice [Tuesday]. It just puts everything in perspective. That kid is a rock star. We don’t feel sorry for him at all. That kid inspires us to be better because of the way he attacks, and he is what ‘Row the boat’ is all about.”