Thursday, August 16, 2007

Camp Battles: Quarterback

There is a consensus opinion among political consultants that suggests that you win the day if you can turn your candidate's weakness into a strength. For Tim Brewster's Golden Gophers to succeed on the field this year, our new coach, a good PR man in how own right, will need to turn perceived Gophers weaknesses into strengths.

To do that, Brewster will need to make the right decision between junior Tony Mortensen, sophomore Adam Weber and true freshman--and his son--Clint Brewster.

In countless previews, writers have called for the Gophers to have a losing season often because of the quarterback situation. Three-year starter and the U's all-time leading passer Bryan Cupito is gone, leaving a considerable void. So in this first part of a three-part series on worrisome positions, I'll look at the quarterback battle, a position that has been the talk of camp. In the coming days I'll take a look at the secondary--remember Michael Floyd said he wanted to go to a school with excellent cornerbacks--and the wide receivers.

Recent reports would indicate, even though Brewster says not to read into it, that Weber might be winning the day. Coming into camp a betting man would have wagered on Mortensen, who has been in the program four years. A cynic might have suggested that Clint Brewster the coveted quarterback out of Colorodo was the odds on favorite.

Here's the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins on the quarterback battle from Wednesday's paper.

Gophers redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber took the majority of snaps with the first-team offense on Wednesday morning, but coach Tim Brewster cautioned not to read too much into that.

"You guys all know that could change quickly," Brewster said

Weber is a local kid, having attended Mounds View before graduating in 2005. His father, Bobby Weber, played defensive back for the Gophers in another era.

Between Weber, Mortensen and Brewster, it's the Mounds View grad that offers the closest thing to a dual-threat at the quarterback position. Previous reports indicated Mike Dunbar was installing an option into the offense. It would seem Weber is the quarterback that could run such a play effectively. Scoggins, in a different article, sums up the competitors' strengths this way:
Each quarterback possesses different skills and qualities. Mortensen has good size (6-3, 230 pounds) and doesn't appear to get rattled easily. He is similar to Cupito in his roll-with-the-punches demeanor. This is Mortensen's fourth season in the program, so he should have an understanding of what it takes to compete at the Big Ten level.

Weber is the best athlete in the group and gives the offense a dimension in the option game. He also has a strong arm and a fiery competitive streak. But he needs to show the coaching staff that he also has command of the offense.

Clint Brewster reportedly has a strong arm and is the son of a coach, which typically means he has a good feel for the game. He also played in a spread offense in high school. It's unusual, however, for true freshmen to be physically and mentally prepared to step in and start right away.
While Weber reportedly has perhaps a more diverse game, Mortensen, a Hutchinson, Minn. native has the benefit of experience. He has played in a handful of games since he made his debut filling in for an injured Cupito in 2005. That 2005 game against Wisconsin, as a redshirt freshman, was his only start for the Gophers. He has since made eight other appearances, and has competed just 11 of 34 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.

While most of that time has been in mop-up duty, Mortensen hasn't exactly set the world on fire when he's gotten the opportunity.

The longshot in the race has to be the coach's son. Some, including me, worried that Clint Brewster would be favored in the race to succeed Cupito. And even if he wasn't "favored," there was the possibility that such a perception could emerge that would hurt Minnesota's chances of recruiting top-caliber quarterbacks in the seasons to come.

Reports indicate that Clint Brewster is taking some snaps in camp with the first team, but that Mortensen and Weber are taking more. That should indicate the real battle is between Mortensen and Weber.

Brewster is a true freshman, but he has the advantage of having played in the spread offense in high school. It should be no secret to Gophers fans that the days of Glen Mason's run always offense is behind us and the ever-popular spread offense is upon us. And it has reportedly been a challenge for Weber and Mortensen to pick up the new schemes.
The coaching staff treated spring practice like a classroom setting. They bombarded the quarterbacks — and the offense as a whole — with an avalanche of information in a short time span, knowing full well the result might be mass confusion. And it was at times.

"It was pretty unreal," Weber said. "That first day it was like, 'Boom, here it is.' You're kind of like, 'What?' There were a couple of days when you go out to practice and your head is still spinning from the meeting you just had."

Said Mortensen: "It was frustrating because some guys would be on one day and five other guys were confused. It wasn't clicking. It was tough for us. We kind of looked sloppy at times."
For a quarterback to have success in the spread, he must be able to make quick decisions, be able to read defenses and understand his blocking schemes. All of that is important because many defenses attack the spread by blitzing from different angles. So, Brewster's experience running the offense can only count in his favor. But staring down a 17-year-old blitzing linebacker on the high school playing field is more than slightly different than staying calm in the face of an Ohio State linebacker.

And while spring practice was surely trying for Weber and Mortensen, published reports indicate they have made strides and become more comfortable under center as preseason camp continues. Weber told the Star Tribune he's made the most progress.

Weber said he has made the most progress in his ability to identify protection.

"The protections are what killed me this spring," he said. "Not knowing who is blocking. Especially in this offense when you spread the field, [defenders] can come from all over the place. If you don't know where to throw it you're dead."

Brewster has said he is looking for his quarterback to be a leader in the huddle and to run the team with composure. But we won't know who has won that contest until the days before the Gophers face Bowling Green.

My bet? Adam Weber will be your opening day quarterback.