The Minnesota Golden Gophers overcame plenty of adversity and injury in 2012 to reach the Meineke Car Care Bowl against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. While they came up short to end the season, the Gophers earned some valuable experience and found some contributors for 2013. The biggest find among them was quarterback Philip Nelson who will enter spring practice as the quarterback to beat for the starter’s position next fall.
Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill took the redshirt off Nelson midway through the 2012 season and saw a lot to like, despite the freshman mistakes that creeped up from time to time. In seven games, Nelson completed 75-of-152 passes for 873 yards with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions as he led Minnesota to a 2-5 finish.
In his sophomore season, Nelson will have to become more efficient with the football. He completed at least 60 percent of his passes twice last season and threw for more than 200 yards just one time. Having a year of experience under his belt will help, but having the continuity and depth along the offensive line like Minnesota will in 2013 will also be a major boost.
That isn’t to say that Kill is ready to just hand the job over to Nelson. The sophomore signal caller will have competition this spring with redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and true freshman Chris Streveler getting looks as well. While Kill has said that the younger two will have come in and knock off Nelson for the job, the opportunity is there for one of them to become the starter.
Leidner is a big quarterback at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but also has great athleticism, running a 4.6 40-yard dash according to his head coach. The Lakeville, Minnesota, native has also impressed with his strength over the offseason and has earned a reputation as a smart quarterback who makes good reads from the pocket.
Streveler, meanwhile, may be even faster than Liedner. Kill raved about the 6-foot-2, 190-pound dual-threat quarterback and his athleticism after Streveler enrolled early to be eligible participate in spring practice. He’s shown off a good arm with an accurate touch and the leadership to take command of a huddle.
But for now, Leidner and Streveler are chasing Nelson. If they aren’t able to overtake him this spring or in fall camp, Kill expects to find playing time for them in other positions to utilize their great athleticism. Streveler already spent time in camp as a receiver and could see more time there if he falls behind in the quarterback race.
One way or the other, look for Minnesota’s quarterback competition this spring help a trio of young signal callers get better in 2013 and expect their athleticism to help the Gophers’ offense even if it isn’t at the quarterback position.