Gophers fall camp Day 3: Competition tight between Nelson and Leidner
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Notes and observations from Day 3 of Gophers fall camp
• The adjustment back to running the offense on a daily basis hasn't been entirely smooth for quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner in the first three days of fall camp.
With the Gophers currently trying to install the bulk of their playbook (close to 50 formation/play combinations), the consistency of the two young quarterbacks has come and gone.
In pass shell on Sunday, Nelson and Leidner both went 6-for-10. But while most of Nelson's completions were around 10 yards, Leidner impressed with back-to-back passes of 35-yards or more to sophomore receiver Andre McDonald, who made a strong move to beat out cornerback Eric Murray on both. Nelson threw an interception early that was brought in by safety Demarius Travis.
But Leidner had his struggles as well. Leidner has displayed better arm strength than Nelson, but his accuracy is a work in progress. Amid numerous overthrows, he had a bad pass picked easily by safety Steven Montgomery during team drills in what would have been a pick-six.
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover acknowledged the struggles both have had, but like coach Jerry Kill said as well, there is no concern among the coaching staff.
"They're probably no more inconsistent than our linebackers or offensive line or our receivers. It's just that everybody sees them right now," Limegrover said. "You look at it, but you don't get too concerned about it. But at the same time, there's a 'You need to get this down and then we'll pair it down for you to what you do best.'"
• It has been widely assumed by onlookers that Nelson, who started seven games as a true freshman last season, will be the Gophers' starter in the season opener against UNLV. And barring injury, it would be vastly surprising if that doesn't hold true.
But what wouldn't be shocking is if Leidner overtakes Nelson's spot at some point in the season. Without trying to ignite "quarterback controversy," what has been confirmed after three days of practice is that the competition between Nelson and Leidner is closer than one may have guessed.
"We've never felt the gap is that big. I think that has been driven by outside forces," Limegrover said. "Philip played in those seven games. I'm glad he did. He has that experience ... But as I've said, and I know Coach will echo it, if Mitch Leidner is going to give us the best chance to go beat UNLV, he'll be starting. That's fact."
• Redshirt junior Marek Lenkiewicz is still holding on to the first team left tackle slot, but redshirt senior Ed Olson is already pressing hard to get his spot back. Olson has started 22 games at left tackle, but Lenkiewicz moved in front of him in the spring when offseason knee surgery forced Olson to sit out.
Limegrover pointed to the competition between Lenkiewicz and Olson as one of the biggest position battles on offense, and one that remains up to debate.
• A current look at the projected offensive line two-deep
LT: Marek Lenkiewicz / Ed Olson
LG: Zac Epping / Joe Bjorklund
C: Jon Christenson / Tommy Olson
RG: Caleb Bak / Isaac Hayes
RT: Josh Campion / Foster Bush
• Safety Derrick Wells was limited to only individual drills on Sunday as he nurses a minor shoulder injury. Wells' shoulder hit the ground awkwardly in practice Saturday. There is no concern that this will be a lasting issue, but the coaching staff is being very cautious early in camp.
With Wells out, junior Briean Boddy took over his first team reps opposite Murray.
• Senior receiver Derrick Engel said true freshman Eric Carter has impressed with how he has handled being thrown into first team reps right away.
"He was really good in the summer too. I worked with him a lot and taught him the offense. He's asked a lot of questions," Engel said. "He has a little step up there. He's still learning, but he's getting it. He's only playing one position at receiver, so he doesn't have to worry about all three spots."
• Kill plans to start narrowing down the playbook with the projected first and second team units sometime in the second full week of practice.
• Running back James Gillum has been hampered by ongoing back tightness. He was not in a green limited contact jersey, but he was not was given full reps Sunday.
• Sunday was the last practice opened to the public until the Gophers' first fully-padded scrimmage next Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (4:40 p.m.)