Ouch! The sound of broken bones or other injuries to Brad Johnson and Bryan Cupito will spark anxiety among the local football populace. For the Vikings or Gophers to lose their starting quarterbacks isn’t welcome news any season but this year neither team has an experienced backup.
Johnson, 38 next month, with limited mobility, faces a physical challenge to escape the 16 game season without injury. Yes, he’s smart, experienced and delivers the ball quickly out of the new West Coast offense, and his line has the talent to provide protection. Still, it’s a long season and only one play could sideline him for one or more games.
Cupito enters his senior season with the Gophers having already been a two-year starter. Along the way he’s missed playing time with a concussion and shoulder injury. With a likely commitment to more passing than in the past, Cupito’s ability and luck in escaping injury may well be tested more than ever. A respected Big Ten quarterback for his passing and on-field command, Cupito has neither the Herculean build (6 foot 3, 205), nor the scrambling ability that can help avoid injuries.
Rookie Tarvaris Jackson is the guess here to replace an injured Johnson. Although just a rookie, Jackson showed poise, touch and scrambling ability in his brief pre-season debut against the Oakland Raiders. “I think they are getting this young man ready to be the No. 2 quarterback,” Joe Theismann told a national TV audience on ESPN. The former Super Bowl quarterback said Jackson impressed him in practice, too.
Despite his lack of experience, Jackson is 23, older than some rookie quarterbacks and he played collegiately at both Arkansas and Alabama State, gaining experience at two programs. At State his numbers improved dramatically over three seasons with interceptions going from 13 to 9 to 5. Touchdown passes increased from 18 to 20 to 29.
Tony Mortensen played in six games last season, starting once for an injured Cupito. If a replacement is needed for Cupito, he seems the likely choice. A redshirt sophomore from Hutchinson, the 6-foot-3, 230- pound Mortenson spent the summer preparing himself knowing “you are only one snap away” from going into the game. He wants to be more consistent in his throwing motion but is confident in his abilities.
In his game as a starter, Mortensen completed seven of 17 passes for one touchdown. For the season, playing limited minutes, he attempted 24 passes, completing nine. The coaching staff used conservative playing calling and limited his opportunities to throw the ball.
Coach Glen Mason said Mortensen is probably the team’s most improved player since spring practice.