GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group following Minnesota's spring practice, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2018, plus their top targets.
First up, the quarterbacks.
What the Gophers have on roster
After a 2016 season as the back-up quarterback for the Golden Gophers, local quarterback Conor Rhoda was planning on transferring elsewhere for his fifth and final season. Rhoda appeared in three games, including a start at Maryland last season, but walked out with the departing seniors on Senior Day in November as it didn't seem likely that Rhoda was going to be given a real shot at the starting job in 2017. Things changed when Minnesota went through a head coaching change and PJ Fleck became the head coach at Minnesota. Fleck and Rhoda immediately met, and Fleck convinced the fifth-year senior to come back for his final season.
With GopherIllustrated able to see a majority of Minnesota's spring practices, things with Rhoda have to start with consistency. With the lack of full pads all spring because of injuries to the offensive line, it's really tough to get an accurate gauge for quarterback play as you don't get to see live bullet against pressure, but even when Rhoda would feel some pressure around the edge or up the middle, he'd try force balls into his receivers and he'd have one or two turnovers a practice because of it. Those are mistakes you can't have for a fifth year senior, and especially for a coaching staff that values the ball more than most of anything. Rhoda's high character and leadership were evident throughout the spring, but he's got to improve his decision making under pressure if he's going to take that next step this fall.
Maybe the biggest wildcard of the entire quarterback group is redshirt sophomore quarterback Demry Croft. After serving as the back-up quarterback during his true freshman season in 2015, Minnesota's old staff decided to redshirt Croft to try and gain that redshirt year back and preserve a year of eligibility.
Croft took a step forward this fall with his consistency and in my eyes, should absolutely be considered the front runner for the starting quarterback job going forward. Croft's arm talent is far and away the best on this roster, as it's been since day one when he got to campus. He can make throws that others can't and has great feel for whether the ball needs some extra zip on it to fit it into zone coverage or if he needs to take some off and add loft to drop it into the bread basket downfield. For Croft to take the next step, he's going to need to continue to work on his understanding on Kirk Ciarrocca's offense and continue to develop as a leader off the field.
After a redshirt season this past year, Seth Green will have every opportunity to make his mark coming off an off-season where he was named the Offensive Work Team Player of the Year. Green's got all of the athletic ability in the world at 6'4" 225 lbs, but things for him are going to be how quickly he can pick up the offense, and how much stronger he's gotten in the last six months.
The answer would be that Green still has a ways to go in his development as a quarterback. He needs to continue to work on his arm strength to be able to make those longer throws from one hash to another and has to keep getting into the playbook and trust his eyes when they tell him something. He'll see the open receiver, but then hesitate before pulling the trigger, and he needs to trust his eyes and make the throw.
Head coach P.J. Fleck's hand-picked quarterback recruit for the 2017 class had about 72 hours to decide if he wanted to follow his head coach sight unseen to Minnesota, and Morgan decided he wanted to do so. He's enrolled and has been taking classes since January, and I was impressed by what I saw this spring for a young man who should be going to prom this week. He's got an ultra quick release and didn't seem phased at all by the step up in speed from high school to college. A summer in the weight room will do Morgan good.
Projected 2017 fall depth chart
- Demry Croft
- Conor Rhoda
- Tanner Morgan
What the Gophers want in 2018
Immediately once P.J. Fleck took over at Minnesota, the 2018 recruiting cycle began and the first quarterback offer went out to Ohio's Brennan Armstrong. He's someone that new offensive coordinator / quarterback's coach Kirk Ciarrocca offered while at Western Michigan and he was the Gophers top priority at the signal caller position. The Gophers were able to get Armstrong on campus in February and get a commitment from the top quarterback in Ohio shortly after. As of right now, it's likely that Armstrong will be Minnesota lone quarterback commitment for the 2018 class.
Here's what Ohio Scout.com analyst Bill Greene had to say about Minnesota's quarterback commitment in Armstrong.
WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS? The greatest strength of Brennan Armstrong would be the fact that this is a pure winner in every sense of the word. He is going to win on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, and in the community. Physically, he is tough as nails, evidenced by his running ability and his play at safety. He has good arm strength, but great field awareness and pocket presence. He is highly intelligent and can get the football out quickly to the right receiver, with accuracy and zip on the ball. He is also a pure quarterback, and we've seen schools taking athletes first at the position, then trying to make them into a quarterback. This is a great pickup for Minnesota.
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS? In an era where college coaches are putting super athletes at quarterback, and using them as runners first and passers second, that just isn't Brennan Armstrong. He is athletic, but this is not Cam Newton or Terrelle Pryor. He is also not the prototypical 6-foot-5, 235-pound, kid that can throw it through a wall from 50-yards out. Armstrong does everything well, but is just not the physically imposing player some schools prefer. He will beat people with the combination of his skills, not one particular feature that stands out at first glance.
WHAT ARE THE INTANGIBLES? This is the smartest player on the field, the toughest player on the field, and the great leader that Gopher coaches are going to love. His high school coaches rave about his work ethic and his leadership skills. He's been putting up big numbers and winning big games since he was a freshman starter, and I expect that to continue at the next level. While he might not have the ceiling of an Andrew Luck, Armstrong has a very high floor and there is almost a zero bust rate with this type of kid.
WHO DOES HE COMPARE TO? Think of Kellen Moore at the college level (also left handed by the way), or Drew Brees at the NFL level.
WHAT ABOUT HIS RANKING? Currently ranked as a three-star, but we are now in the process of updating our rankings for the 2018 class. Armstrong is definitely under consideration for four-star status.