MarQueis Gray thrilled to return to QB spot

These days, MarQueis Gray spends his free time studying tape from Northern Illinois' 2010 season, trying to soak in the offense he'll run at Minnesota this fall.

Gray likes the scheme, which suits his skill set well. But Minnesota's coaches could have told him they'd be running the wishbone or the run 'n' shoot, as long as he would be the man calling signals.

Once Gray heard he was returning to the quarterback spot, nothing else really mattered.

"That's basically what I wanted to hear," Gray told me this week. "It put a smile on my face."

Gray came to Minnesota as a heralded dual-threat quarterback but started at wide receiver last season because the coaches didn't want to waste his talent on clipboard duty. The 6-4, 230-pound Gray finished second on the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (587) and receiving touchdowns (5), while adding 110 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Although the departure of four-year starting quarterback Adam Weber suggested Gray would return to quarterback, he didn't take anything for granted.

"I had no idea what they were going to do with me," Gray said. "But when [the new staff] first got here, I talked with coach [Jerry] Kill and he told me I was going to be his quarterback. I've played quarterback all my life. I just like being the general on the field, being the man that the team looks to to help them win games."

Gray knows he must re-establish himself as a leader and has taken steps to do so this offseason. He has pushed himself to be more vocal in winter workouts and gathers receivers to go through pass routes after weightlifting sessions.

"I'm getting back into the rhythm of it," he said. "I haven’t being doing it since I left high school, but they believe in me and I believe in them, so I'm pretty sure it’s going to work out."

Gray also has spent time with his new quarterbacks coach, Jim Zebrowski, going over the new scheme. Zebrowski told Gray that the system blends the offenses from Rose Bowl participants TCU and Wisconsin, although Gray sees more plays run from the shotgun and pistol formations than from under center.

Dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish excelled in the offense at Northern Illinois, accounting for 28 touchdowns (21 pass, 7 rush) and 3,366 yards of total offense (2,530 pass, 836 rush) in 2010. The Gophers' staff knows Gray will need time to grow in the system, but they like what they're inheriting.

"We were watching the [Minnesota-Iowa] game and he goes back there in the quasi-Wildcat as the quarterback and he lasers one," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "We kind of looked at each other and said, 'OK, we can work with that.' You think, 'OK, wonderful athlete, can run, can do things with the ball in his hands, All-Big Ten caliber wide receiver,' that's awesome. But then you watch him drop back and throw the ball.

"Then you go, 'This kid's more than just an athlete we're going to put back there. He's a quarterback.'"