Glass half full: Zack Annexstad's injury is a blow for Minnesota, but creates opportunity for Tanner Morgan
Iron sharpens iron.
That’s the catchphrase a lot of college football coaches like to throw out this time of year. P.J. Fleck was hoping it would ring true for Minnesota’s quarterback competition through fall camp.
Minnesota received some bad news this week, though, as Zack Annexstad reportedly suffered a foot injury in the first few days of fall camp. That likely means that Tanner Morgan will be the guy under center when the Gophers kick the season off against South Dakota State on Aug. 29.
“Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, and we feel terrible for Zack,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “He worked extremely hard in the spring and summer to put himself in position to compete for the starting job, and I know he will recover from this setback to be even stronger. Zack is an elite teammate and person, and I look forward to him being an important part of the team as a leader while he is recovering.”
Annexstad’s injury is certainly a blow for Minnesota’s quarterback depth — especially for a kid who won the starting job as a true freshman walk-on last fall. His ability to compete with the scholarship quarterbacks on the roster was unquestionably a benefit for the Golden Gophers.
If you do want to look at the glass half full, though, Annexstad’s indefinite absence will (probably) allow Morgan to get more first-team repetitions during fall camp. That may not be the worst thing in the world for a player who’s still relatively inexperienced.
Would Morgan benefit from having a competitor throughout the month of August before the Gophers take the field? Sure. But there’s also a benefit to getting more work in with the first-team offense in the coming weeks.
Morgan played in nine games for Minnesota last season, starting in the final six games of the season. He certainly did enough to help the Gophers close the year with wins in three of their final four games, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Last season, Morgan ended with 1,401 yards and nine touchdowns. Consistency was a bit of a concern, completing less than 60 percent of his passes and tossing six interceptions, as well. Those aren’t terrible numbers — especially for a freshman — but refining accuracy and finding receivers more frequently would be welcomed improvements.
Morgan’s struggles particularly came against some of the better defenses the Gophers faced. He was just 19-of-32 for 197 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions against Northwestern. In the season finale against Wisconsin, he completed nine of 16 passes for 124 yards.
Obviously, some of that is scheme related. But delivering better performances against big-time opponents would be a solid next step for the sophomore quarterback.
Getting more first-team snaps during fall camp should allow Morgan to get into a better rhythm with his receivers and more comfortable with his offensive line. Obviously, those are things that could be developed later in fall camp, but developing that chemistry earlier could pay off down the road.
It could be the difference between a trip to Indianapolis and a simple postseason berth.
That’s an extremely optimistic approach, I know. It’s not to say that Annexstad’s is a positive thing for the Gophers. Both Morgan and Annexstad could’ve benefitted from a hard-fought battle throughout camp. And it’s not to say that Morgan won’t be challenged by one of the other quarterbacks on the roster for the rest of the month, either. Though that scenario doesn’t seem quite as likely.
Blessings come in disguises sometimes. Annexstad’s injury is certainly a blow to the Gophers, but the team can still take advantage of an unfortunate situation.
Those additional first-team reps for Morgan may just come in handy down the road for Morgan and Minnesota.