Quarterback competitions dominated the Big Ten landscape this spring, but one race we expected to continue after the 2013 season never really got started. Philip Nelson's surprising decision to transfer from Minnesota put Mitch Leidner in the spotlight this spring as the Golden Gophers' top signal-caller. Leidner, who split time with Nelson last season, received the coaches' blessing before spring ball and solidified his position atop the depth chart.
Minnesota has churned out strong defenses under coach Jerry Kill, and the run game should be a major strength this season. But can the Gophers throw the ball after finishing 115th nationally in passing last year? That question falls mainly on Leidner, whose athleticism is obvious, but he must grow into a complete quarterback.
ESPN.com checked in with Leidner earlier this week.
How did the spring go for you personally?
Mitch Leidner: I thought it went really well. The spring game didn't end the way I wanted it to, but looking back at all the practices and going over some of the new stuff, I really like what we're doing. It gets me excited for next season. What we've been doing now with workouts and some throwing, it's a good start for the summer.
How was this spring different for you than the last one?
ML: It was more of a leadership role. I felt like an older guy on the team, which is what we were looking for. It was good to help out some of the younger quarterbacks and trying to help them caught up, and building chemistry with that [first-team] huddle, being in there all the time. I bring a lot of juice and passion to the game, and I think the guys love that. I've always been like that. I always wanted to play college football and worked extremely hard at it.
How do you see the offense evolving this season?
ML: In terms of our running backs, all those guys are playing well. And our O-line, most of those guys are coming back. In terms of receivers, I'm really excited because they played well throughout the spring and we have a couple of young guys coming in here in the summertime. At running back, David Cobb and Berkley Edwards and Rodrick Williams all stood out. [Donnell] Kirkwood's playing well, too. He had a little bit of a hernia, so he got all fixed up. There's some competition now. Berkley's a really explosive player. He's fun to watch.
I know fans were hoping to see Edwards last year. What was it like being around him this spring?
ML: It was good. You like having him in your huddle because every time you give him the ball, I know there's a chance he's going to bust one.
What did you and the receivers work on to improve the passing game?
ML: The biggest thing is throwing it out of their breaks. Every ball that we're throwing is thrown before they're even breaking on it. We can get a really good feel of our timing. The talent's there. We just have to get on the same page a little bit more.
Was there anything mechanically you worked on?
ML: I've been working on a lot of different hip things, getting my hips into my throws more. I've seen a lot of changes in the way I throw a ball from last season until now. Continuing to work on that has helped me get more juice behind my throws. I've been an over-the-top thrower. Now it's more bringing my hips through like a punch. Some of the workouts I've been doing with bands have helped me develop into it easily.
What stood out to you about the wide receivers this spring?
ML: It was good for a couple of the younger guys. Donovahn Jones hadn't had a spring ball and even during fall camp last year, he was playing quarterback most of the time. He eventually got moved to receiver and really had never played receiver before. A couple other younger guys like Eric Carter stepped up, and KJ [Maye] played well, too.
What are the main goals for the offense?
ML: We want to put up a lot of points every game. We want to be explosive, make big plays. It's really exciting to be part of the Gopher offense right now.
Lastly, any chance we see the return of the 'stache this year?
ML: I don't know, we'll see what happens. Maybe I'll mix it up a little bit.