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Reasons for optimism: Gophers QB Mitch Leidner garners more recognition

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It's safe to say that expectations are high for Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner during his Senior season.

Right after the NFL Draft, ESPN's Todd McShay released his "Way-too-early 2017 NFL Mock Draft" and he surprised Gophers fans when he highlighted Leidner as a first-round pick.

Well Leidner continues to draw praise from ESPN. On Tuesday, McShay listed Leidner as a Top 6 NFL quarterback prospect in a column for ESPN Insider.

"Leidner does not have a big arm, but he can improve his ball velocity by getting his lower body more involved in his throws. He plays in a zone-read-heavy run offense and is a competitive runner with above-average vision, speed and toughness. Leidner hung tough in the pocket behind an offensive line that struggled to protect. He has elite intangibles."

Leidner had his best season last year. As a junior, he completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,701 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he also threw 11 interceptions.

Reasons for optimism

While Gophers fans have largely remained skeptical of the national attention for Leidner, there are a few reasons for optimism.

Leidner posted those numbers while dealing with a fairly significant foot injury last year. Reports indicate he's feeling much better after offseason surgery.

It should be worth noting that NFL scouts have also been coming through Gophers practice frequently to get a look at Leidner and some of the others on the squad.

Also, the Star Tribune notes he'll be working with new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson this season.

"The first part about mechanics is interesting. If those evaluating him from a distance are correct, we'll have to see if new offensive coordinator/QB coach Jay Johnson can work on it with Leidner."

And it appears Leidner loves playing in Johnson's new system, which will require him to make more reads and calls at the line of scrimmage.

"I love it," Leidner told the Pioneer Press. "I feel like I've always been a football guy, one who was always trying to learn more and more of the game, it's just that the previous offense didn't really allow you to get to (change plays) with things like that, whether it's change protections, change run plays, all that kind of stuff. Just plays in general."

If Leidner has the type of year some on the national level are predicting, Gopher fans should have plenty to cheer about in 2016.

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