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Manning camp, new mentor latest steps in Mitch Leidner's progression

CHICAGO -- Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner is entering his junior season, even if it feels like he must be older than that. Leidner has already played in 22 career games, with 16 starts.

"I think the only thing I haven't seen so far is an overtime situation," he said.

But there always is more to learn and ways to grow as a quarterback, and Leidner certainly has areas in which he can improve. A new mentor on campus and a summer trip to the Manning Passing Academy have the Gophers' leader excited about the possibilities ahead.

Leidner was invited to participate in the Manning camp and roomed with Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, North Carolina's Marquise Williams and Utah State's Chuckie Keeton. The college players would teach youngsters in the morning and afternoon, work out in seven-on-seven drills at night and gain insight from Peyton and Eli Manning and others in between.

"It was really beneficial for me," Leidner said. "It was cool to be able to talk to Peyton and have something in common. He told me he lived in Minnesota for a year when his dad was with the Vikings."

Leidner also listened intently as New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton described how Drew Brees handles himself and what it takes to be an NFL quarterback. Leidner was so excited about the experience that he called a team meeting the day he got back (July 12) and relayed the lessons he learned to his teammates.

"He gave us some pointers and things that freshmen needed to work on," Gophers defensive end Theiren Cockran said. "It was more specific to quarterbacks, but also went for everybody."

Leidner said he has incorporated the drills he worked on in Louisiana at the camp into his daily summer routine -- "I can't rep them enough." And he has a new mentor who has walked in his shoes. Former Gophers star quarterback Adam Weber joined the coaching staff this spring as a graduate assistant.

"We're doing some things so that I have better preparation in game weeks," Leidner said. "Having Adam there as a GA, we're going to get a better plan together so I know exactly what's going to happen on the field. And if not, I'll know how to react and adapt to what I'm seeing."

Though the Gophers love Leidner's leadership and toughness, he remains a little rough around the edges as a passer. He's 6-foot-4 with a big arm, but he completed just 51.5 percent of his throws last season with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His favorite target in the passing game, tight end Maxx Williams, left for the NFL in the offseason.

Still, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said Friday that he expects the offense to produce "more explosive plays." It all starts under center, and Leidner's recent experiences should help him grow.

"Mitch has had an outstanding offseason," Kill said. "He's a year older. I look for him to have a great year."