Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is looking to the future, both with his program and with his best player.
Injuries to top quarterback MarQueis Gray (knee/ankle) and backup Max Shortell (shoulder) prompted Kill to burn the redshirt of heralded incoming recruit Philip Nelson last Saturday at Wisconsin. With only five regular-season games remaining, Kill will keep Nelson, considered the team's quarterback of the future, in the starting role.
Gray, whose knee/ankle issues prevent him from being full strength at quarterback, will work at wide receiver, a position at which he likely projects well in the NFL. The 6-4, 250-pound Gray came to Minnesota as a quarterback but played mostly wide receiver in 2010 and split time between the two positions after returning from his initial injury Oct. 13 against Northwestern.
"We made the commitment to pull the redshirt off Philip," Kill said Tuesday. "When you do that, you're going to play the youngster. We may play him and Max. I don't know, with our situation health-wise with MarQueis, when he'll be able to take some snaps. Right now, we just need to worry about keeping somebody healthy."
Kill didn't rule out using Gray at quarterback again this season, but said the fifth-year senior has missed valuable time and has more of a future at wide receiver. Gray finished second on the team in receiving in 2010, recording 42 receptions for 587 yards and five touchdowns. He has 52 receptions for 681 yards and six scores in his career.
Gray will sit out practice Tuesday, as Minnesota tries to get him ready for Saturday's pivotal home showdown against Purdue.
"I really feel bad for him, to be honest with you, because he's such a great talent," Kill said of Gray. "And he's a tough kid. A lot of kids wouldn't play through what he's trying to play through. I'm more concerned about him as a person and also his future. We talk all the time, and he understands where he's at. The most important thing is get him healthy."
Nelson completed 13 of 24 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in his collegiate debut, a 38-13 Minnesota loss to Wisconsin. He led Minnesota with 67 rush yards on 16 carries at Camp Randall Stadium, where his father, Pat, played fullback for the Badgers.
Nelson grew up in the Madison area before moving to Minnesota, and was heavily recruited by Wisconsin before choosing to play for his home-state school.
"It's kind of amazing, you take a true freshman, that's where his dad played, a tough place to play," Kill said. "I thought he was very composed. He made a mistake or two there, but we kind of put him in that situation because we were playing catchup.
"He did a really good job. I was very pleased with his effort."