MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota football team is on Spring Break and not returning to spring practice until next week, but that doesn’t mean there’s not healthy competition among the players.
PJ Fleck waited as long as he could last season to announce Zack Annexstad as his starting quarterback. The surprise there was that Annexstad was a freshman walk-on at the time. Tanner Morgan was a redshirt freshman, and had already spent a year in the Gophers program.
The scholarship piece of it was a formality, with Annexstad earning a scholarship this offseason. Fleck said after naming Annexstad the starter last year that both quarterbacks would play. Injuries happen, and he wanted to get a look at both players in live action.
Sure enough, Annexstad injured his ankle early in the season, then had to be pulled from the game against Nebraska and was hospitalized with a midsection injury. He didn’t play the rest of the season. Annexstad finished with more than 1,200 yards passing, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Morgan played against both New Mexico State and Miami (Ohio) before taking over for Annexstad after the injury at Nebraska. Morgan started the last six games and averaged 192 yards passing per game, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
Fleck said after last Friday’s open spring practice the quarterback race is an open competition, and it will be into the fall. It’s also not a lock that it will be Morgan or Annexstad. Freshmen Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer will get their chance to compete.
“It’s our players’ job to keep their job. I’m motivated based on somebody taking my job one day, same thing. It’s my job to keep my job, same thing for the players,” Fleck said.
Morgan and Annexstad will likely be the front-runners to start, since they have the experience of playing a college game. Both got snaps with the first team offense during drills at practice, and both had big plays where they hit receivers on target.
Both also had throws that didn’t connect. What Fleck cares about is that they’re pushing each other, and they’re being good teammates.
“Zack and Tanner have done a great job competing with each other. They really help each other on the field, they’re not against each other,” Fleck said. “They want what’s best for the football team, and they compete really hard. That’s what you want in a competition. They’re tremendous leaders, they do a great job of bringing the team together.”
Clark comes in as a freshman and a highly-touted quarterback recruit out of Texas. He’s every bit of 6 feet 5 inches tall, and that height will help him find receivers down field. Rivals ranked Clark the No. 13 pro-style quarterback in the nation. He threw for more than 6,200 yards and 60 touchdowns in 23 varsity games.
Kramer is a winner, and it’s why Fleck wanted the Eden Prairie native to stay home. He led the Eagles to an undefeated 2018 season and a state championship. He threw for 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season.
They’re both freshmen, and they both look a little raw in spring practice. That’s to be expected when they haven’t faced live college game action yet.
“That’s the difference between game experience and no game experience. We watched it last year and had nothing else to compare it to. When you look at Zack and Tanner and compare them to the two young kids, Jacob and Cole, you can see a major difference right now and that’s because they’re young,” Fleck said.
Morgan went 3-2 as a starter last season, including a 3-1 stretch over the final four games. He passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, a 38-31 win over Indiana.
Last year, the Gophers had just two quarterbacks and neither had game experience going into the season. This year, they have four on scholarship, and Morgan and Annexstad have played in big games. All four will continue to see action in spring practice, and all four should play in the Spring Game.
May the best quarterback win, and hopefully stay healthy.