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Shannon Ryan | Chicago Tribune | August 19, 2014

Taking the lead

Some quarterbacks won't know if they're starters until the end of preseason camps. Some won't know until the nonconference season concludes.

Luckily for Mitch Leidner, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill isn't one for suspense.

Kill saw enough of what he liked in Leidner, a sophomore, to avoid a drawn-out quarterback battle through spring and preseason practices, appointing him the next starter shortly after last season's bowl-game loss to Syracuse. The quick decision helped Leidner and his teammates grow accustomed to the idea of him as the leader.

"When you know who the guy's going to be it clears up a bunch of things," said Kill, the former Northern Illinois coach who's beginning his fourth season at Minnesota. "We don't have to worry all about that during camp. He's had an unbelievable summer and spring. The kids know he's the guy. He's a very, very strong leader."

Last season, Leidner was focused on making an impression on the coaches and winning the job from Philip Nelson, who transferred after the season. This season, he can focus on establishing his role and improving his skills.

He was impressed to see every teammate show up to the voluntary captains' workouts. He also made it an offseason point to build chemistry with receivers.

"Last year there would be a lot of guys who wouldn't show up," he said. "This year nobody missed a practice. Guys are fighting for reps after reps. It's good to see that competition."

Leidner gained experience sparingly as a freshman, completing 57.1 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception. He showed more promise in the Texas Bowl, where he entered in the fourth quarter and threw two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion to give the Gophers a 17-14 lead before the eventual 21-17 loss.

Despite being irked by the loss, personally, Leidner said that was just the beginning for him.

"I think I've taken my game to a whole different level," he said. "In my film study I've been working extremely hard and getting my receivers ready to go. I just see more velocity on the football and little things like that."

That could add up to a big difference for the Gophers, who hope to win at least eight games for a second consecutive season and return to a bowl game. They know who they're following on this mission.

"Mitch is just a blue-collar kid who comes to work every day," Kill said. "He's a tough kid. I think that's why players gravitate to him."

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