Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner said he believes he will be able to participate in some of spring practice despite having surgery on his left foot in January.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to do about three weeks of it after spring break,” Leidner said Thursday as he took time out to visit while playing catch with former teammate and current Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams.
The Gophers all of a sudden have a lot of competition at quarterback between Leidner, who has started 29 games over the past three seasons; sophomore backup Demry Croft; and incoming freshman Seth Green, who was rated as one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country.
Leidner said it’s unfortunate he will have to miss any part of spring practice, particularly because he’ll miss working with the team’s new offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson.
“It will hurt me, definitely, especially with the new offensive coordinator, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to eventually do some stuff after spring break,” Leidner said.
Leidner said that overall he feels good about the surgery and his progress so far.
“It turned out real well, real well. I’m already walking around a little bit, so it’s good,” he said. “I mean definitely, it is already starting to feel better than it did before the surgery.”
Leidner said he has been dealing with pain in his foot for the past two seasons but it got progressively worse to the point where it was the best idea to have surgery.
“I don’t think it affected my play that much other than my ability to run,” he said.
Could the team have been better last season if he was healthy?
“I mean, you never know, maybe, but I don’t know, next season I’ll be healthy though and it will be exciting,” he said.
Leidner, who sits sixth all-time in Gophers passing yardage with 5,118 yards, was asked for his expectations of the team this year.
“I think we can be really good, we’ve got a lot of young talent that has been working hard from what I’ve seen so far this winter,” said the senior from Lakeville. “I’m excited for next season.”
Learning the NFL
As for Williams, a second-round pick last year, he said he had fun in his first NFL season while adjusting to the game.
“In Baltimore, yeah it was a lot of fun, it’s different than college, for sure,” he said. “Everyone is a little bit better, faster, but overall it was a fun year.”
Williams finished the season with 32 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown. But he caught only 19 passes over the first 14 weeks of the season, in part because of injuries — he missed Week 7 because of a knee injury and Week 12 because of a concussion. His best game of the year was the season finale, when he had six catches for 53 yards against Cincinnati. During the game, he was leveled by a blind-side hit from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was fined $50,000 for the play.
Williams said there was an adjustment from playing in college.
“It’s more of a jump mentally than anything, just kind of being on your own and having to become a pro and learning what that means,” he said. “Mentally, it’s definitely a bigger jump.”
Still, things really came along at the end of the year for Williams.
“I played a lot throughout the whole year, so that was fun,” he said. “At the end of the year I played a whole lot, I started the last five games of the year.”
He said he also had fun learning under St. Louis Park native Marc Trestman, the former Chicago Bears coach who is the Ravens offensive coordinator.
“Marc Trestman is a genius,” Williams said. “That’s the way I describe him. He’s really football-smart and really knows how to keep the team together on offense and runs our meetings well and teaches you a lot of things.”
As for Year 2 in Baltimore, Williams said, “I’m looking forward to my time back there and just trying to get as ready as I can before I go back.”
Young stars shine
How about the young lineup that started and finished the Timberwolves’ 117-112 comeback victory over Toronto on Wednesday? Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are all 20 years old, Ricky Rubio is 25 and Gorgui Dieng is 26.
Towns continues to set Wolves records, surpassing Kevin Love for the most double-doubles in a season by a rookie with 30. He also set a team high for games by a rookie with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, with his 15th such game Wednesday. He joined a group of elite players who have had at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a game before turning 21. Others to accomplish this feat include Shaquille O’Neal (four times), Kevin Durant (twice), Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Webber.
Wiggins put on a fantastic performance in the fourth quarter Wednesday. The Toronto native scored 13 points in 12 minutes on 4-for-7 shooting plus 5-for-6 on free throws. Wiggins finished with 26 points for the night, his 30th game of at least 20 points this season and his 13th in 18 games. No way would you trade him for Love at this point.
Rubio finished with 19 points, eight assists and three three-pointers on six attempts, and Dieng recorded his 10th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. LaVine, making a rare start, had 13 points, five assists and four rebounds.
• J.P. Macura, the former Lakeville North standout with No. 5 Xavier, had the best game of his sophomore season Saturday when he scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting to go along with four rebounds, a steal and an assist in a 90-82 victory over Marquette. The 6-5 Macura is averaging 9.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
• Baseball’s Caribbean Series ended Sunday in the Dominican Republic, and two Twins prospects were on the squad from Venezuela that lost to Mexico. Marcus Walden made one start and pitched 5 ⅓ innings, giving up one run on seven hits with three strikeouts in a 13-3 semifinal victory over Puerto Rico. Reliever Omar Bencomo gave up three runs over 3 ⅔ innings in a loss to Mexico Feb. 3. Former Twins pitcher Pedro Hernandez also was on the team.
• Twins farmhand James Beresford went 4-for-5 with three RBI and a run as Australia beat the Philippines 11-1 in seven innings in a World Baseball Classic qualifier Thursday. Beresford hit .307 last season for Class AAA Rochester.
• Former Twins player and coach Al Newman will be the Apple Valley 76ers coach for American Legion ball this summer. He had been the coach of the Alexandria Blue Anchors in the Northwoods League the past three seasons.
• Drew Hmielewski, the two-sport Gophers recruit from Marshall, Minn., injured his shoulder playing football this past season and likely will be redshirted. His father, Chris, is the athletic director at Southwest Minnesota State.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com