QB MarQueis Gray stars for Gophers in spring game

7:42 PM, Apr 25, 2009   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- MarQueis Gray took the snap, sidestepped back from the line, and let the ball fly. Brodrick Smith caught it in stride and sped down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown, as Gray raised his hands above his helmet and 6-foot-4 frame to signal success. This was merely an intrasquad scrimmage, of course, and the freshman-to-be has much work to do before he's ready to lead the Gophers in any competition resembling Big Ten play. But Saturday's spring game served at least as a tantalizing snapshot of the potential Gray brings to the program. "It's hard being away from football that long ... but I felt like MarQueis did a great job of coming in here and really commanding the offense and making some big plays for us," said Adam Weber, a junior-to-be who has helped tutor his backup since Gray formally joined the team at the beginning of the year. Because of an NCAA-raised question about his ACT scores, Gray -- a nationally lauded run-pass threat out of Indianapolis in 2008 -- wasn't on the team last fall. He passed through the clearinghouse and enrolled for second semester. "He came in here real hungry. ... You can tell that he has the right attitude, that he wants to get out there and get better," Smith said. Coach Tim Brewster prohibits players from conducting interviews with the press before they've played in their first game, so Gray won't be able to publicly comment about his progress until after Minnesota's visit to Syracuse for the season opener on Sept. 5. "I think he made tremendous strides this spring. ... The game is not too big for MarQueis, and those are the type of players you want to have on your team -- who embrace the challenge of competing," Brewster said. Playing primarily against the first-string defense, the 224-pound prized recruit threw twice for scores to Smith. The first one came on a fade route from 17 yards out; the perfectly placed ball floated above double coverage and into Smith's hands. "He's got a big arm. He really does. ... As he grows at the position I think he's got a chance to be really good," Brewster said. "He is so fortunate that he's got Adam Weber to work with him." As the Gophers alter their offense to include more power-running plays and more of a pro-style team under new coordinator Jedd Fisch, they plan to build packages into their scheme to get Gray on the field as the same time as Weber. For one play on Saturday, Weber lined up wide left, took the handoff from Gray and ran right with the ball. Weber planted and threw left to Gray, barely missing. "MarQueis is going to be a viable option as a runner, as a thrower -- just any different way we can allow him to touch the football and affect the game," Brewster said. Fisch has replaced Mike Dunbar, whose spread system didn't pan out. Tim Davis is the new offensive line coach and running-game coordinator. When Weber was a freshman trying to learn Dunbar's scheme, he compared it to trying to read Chinese. This spring, players have remarked about a more player-friendly system. "Maybe it's just because I have a couple years under my belt, but I feel a little bit more comfortable out there," Weber said. Other notable developments from Saturday's game, played at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in front of about 6,000 fans: -- Troy Stoudermire, now exclusively an offensive player after moving from cornerback, followed a solid freshman season with a highlight-filled afternoon returning kickoffs (three for an average of 47.7 yards) and punts (two for an average of 18.5 yards). Stoudermire also scored on a 54-yard touchdown run and caught three passes for 31 yards. -- Freshman-to-be Sam Maresh, recovered from major heart surgery that kept him off the field last fall, played extensively at linebacker with the second team and made a handful of hard hits. -- Eric Ellestad made all of his kicks, including a 47-yard field goal. -- Duane Bennett, whose knee injury cut short his 2008 season, has been practicing this spring but was held out of Saturday's game. Freshman-to-be Kevin Whaley rushed 12 times for 63 yards. -- Defensive end Cedric McKinley had three sacks.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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