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Quarterbacks Youth Not Concerning Kill

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July 29, 2013

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There are seven quarterbacks listed on the Gophers roster as the team prepares to open practice on Friday and all are freshmen or sophomores.  Only one, Philip Nelson, has game experience playing for Minnesota.

Fans might fret about the inexperience and lack of depth but not coach Jerry Kill.  “We talk a lot about the quarterback position.  That doesn’t concern me right now,” Kill told Sports Headliners.

“I feel good about where we’re at.  I feel good about Philip. I feel good about Mitch.  They’re young.  They’re smart kids.  They represent us well and that’s what we need to be successful.  Now we gotta build the rest of the team and that’s more of a concern than quarterback is right now.”

Nelson is the starter and Mitch Leidner, a redshirt freshman, is No. 2.  Kill, who likes the talent of Nelson, Leidner and other quarterbacks, isn’t discounting the importance of the position in rebuilding a program with only four Big Ten wins in the last two seasons.

“I don’t think anybody can win without a quarterback, no matter what system it is,” Kill said.  “You look at the NFL teams that are winning, they’ve got the best quarterbacks.  You look at college football, the ones that win they’ve got the best quarterbacks.  When Wisconsin (historically great running teams) was really good, they had the best quarterback. …

“They (quarterbacks) come in all shapes and sizes.  We’re blessed right now.  We got some good young players.”

If not for injuries to other players, Nelson would have redshirted last season.  Nelson started the last seven games and while he was inconsistent he did lead the team in total offense with 1,057 yards including eight touchdown passes.  Fans didn’t realize the athletic freshman, who rushed for 184 yards during the season, was faster than senior starting quarterback MarQueis Gray.

Kill doesn’t second-guess Nelson losing a season of eligibility because the former Mankato West quarterback couldn’t be redshirted.  “I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. It puts him farther ahead.  It puts our football team farther ahead, and it helped us in a situation (where) we were injured up in that position at the time.  In a lot of ways we didn’t have a choice but I think it worked out very well.”

Kill has started young quarterbacks at other schools where he coached including Southern Illinois. “The only way you can learn is to go out and play.  You’re going to make some mistakes and then you’ve got to move on to the next play.  We’ve never hesitated (about youth).  I started a redshirt freshman when I was as Southern Illinois.  Started four straight years.  If kids’ got abilities you don’t hold them back.”

Despite the inexperience on the quarterback roster, Kill doesn’t simplify the playbook for his young students who are expected to execute what is given to them. “It’s not that we need to put any more (plays) in and all that stuff.  We gotta execute what we’re doing and doing it well.”

Worth Noting

Brad Salem, son of former Gophers head coach Joe Salem, is the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Michigan State.  Brad’s recruiting interest includes the state of Wisconsin, and Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said, “We think we found a little bit of a niche.”

The Spartans’ roster includes former Wayzata High School receiver A.J. Troup, a sophomore who has yet to play a game for MSU.  He caught a game winning 46-yard touchdown pass in the spring game but recently suffered a knee injury and is out for the season.

Brad’s brother Tim Salem, a former Gophers quarterback, is the running backs coach and special teams coordinator at Illinois.

Former Viking Bob Lurtsema has said tight end Kyle Rudolph was “the steal” of the 2011 NFL draft.  Rudolph impressed in his first two seasons with the Vikings including his Pro Bowl MVP performance last winter, and he can improve more.

“Kyle developed from year one to year two and we are looking for another jump both in the run game and the pass game from Kyle,” said offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.  “From all indication he is poised to do that. He has had a terrific spring, he is a little heavier than he has been, but that is good weight. He is definitely stronger and you know we pride the tight ends to be a big part of the running game and he did that last year.  He is ready to do it again.”

Musgrave answering a question about how much better the offensive line might be in 2013 after helping Adrian Peterson almost break the NFL single season rushing record last year:  “It would be hard to ask them to be much better in the running game. They (also) did a nice job pass protecting last year. We do want to minimize our sacks and stay out of those long yardage situations.

“It’s a terrific group.  It is fun to have (injured center) John Sullivan back; he is really the stabilizer.  Matt Kalil (rookie tackle last season) has fewer unknowns than 12 months ago so we are excited about that crew.”

Zach Line is a rookie free agent running back from SMU who is on the Vikings roster trying to make the team, and watching his pursuit of a pro career is writer Jenny Vrentas, according to the July 29 issue of Sports Illustrated.  She will stay with the Line story this year even if he is out of football and “working at a CVS,” Peter King reported in the magazine while previewing features for the new Monday Morning Quarterback website that will be “under the Sports Illustrated umbrella.”

King’s tour of NFL training camps will include an August 12 stop in Mankato to view the Vikings.  Based on previous dining experience, he praises Jake’s Stadium Pizza in Mankato.  “One of the best meals on the camp trip, by far,” he wrote.

The St. Thomas football team, with 15 of 22 starters returning from last year’s school record 14-1 team, is ranked No. 2 in the preseason polls by both D3football.com and the USA Today Magazine Division III preview.  The Tommies, winners of 33 consecutive regular season games, are second in the polls to Mount Union.  Bethel is No. 8 in the D3football.com poll and ranked No. 6 by USA Today.

The field for the 3M Championship, scheduled now through Sunday at the TPC Twin Cities, will include Champions Tour rookies Rocco Mediate, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Elkington, plus Tom Lehman, Fred Funk, Nick Price and other fan favorites, according to 3mchampionship.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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