Minnesota Gophers quarterbacks Tanner Morgan, the starter, and Zack Annexstad, the backup, were the first players to contact head coach P.J. Fleck when the coronavirus outbreak suspended school and spring football practices nearly three weeks ago.
They said, “ ‘How can we help? What can we do?’ ” Fleck recalled Wednesday, April 1. “These guys are at the forefront. Tanner is the face of the program, in terms of making sure this is what it looks like on and off the field. It’s special when you have someone like that.”
Morgan gave a glimpse into how he’s leading from afar when he joined a video conference call Wednesday afternoon with reporters in Minnesota. Within the screenshot over his shoulder, a white dry-erase board was spotted mounted to his bedroom wall in Union, Ky.
While the Gophers’ annual spring game on Saturday was called off and players are now taking online classes from their homes, Morgan has drawn formations, plays and route concepts on the board as new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. has asked quarterbacks to show peers their understanding of the Gophers' schemes during video calls.
“I love having that,” Morgan said of the board. “I have one in my room back on campus and I use the white boards all the time at the (Minnesota’s practice) facility. That grease board has gotten a lot of use in the last week or two.”
Without face-to-face interactions or live practices, Morgan and the Gophers have used FaceTime and Zoom calls for team and position group meetings. “We are going to continue to find ways to draw closer,” he said.
With guidance to keep social distance and stay close at home, Morgan worked out once in a parking lot with dumbbells and has used an at-home gym. Minnesota's strength and conditioning staff has put together different workout “challenges” for players during the pandemic.
Morgan said he has watched film of Sanford’s former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, a potential first-round NFL draft pick later this month.
“He can really spin it,” Morgan said. “He is really creative in how he got the ball in space.”
Another Morgan must-see is New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees. “I just love the way he operates; it’s just outstanding. The way he attacks every single day, and his preparation is second to done.”
Before Gophers spring ball started on March 3, Morgan said Sanford’s top goal for his inherited starter was to improve his footwork.
“A lot of times I was sloppy in kind of moving around a lot,” the all-Big Ten second-team selection said a month ago. “There was a lot of ways I can get better and that progresses to pocket movement. There was a lot of times I walked into sacks or maybe I could have gotten out if I stepped here or created false pressure. That is one area that we’ve really been working at it.”
The sudden shutdown of sports came when Minnesota players were on spring break. Morgan said he checked a bag for his flight out of Minnesota but left his laptop back in Dinkytown. He had get an iPad to stay connected and do online work.
“It was a whirlwind. We thought we were coming back on Saturday from spring break and that stay was obviously extended,” Morgan said. “It was kind of wild how it went down.”
Morgan said he is routine-driven, so he has worked to re-establish those in Kentucky. But also has decompressed by playing Madden with his brother, Tyler, and gone fishing in a backyard pond.
“That’s been nice,” he said. “I haven’t been fishing for a while, so doing that and finding ways to connect with different people has been awesome for me.”
But a massive question remains concerning if and when the Gophers get back to practice or play games this fall. News of further delays have come out in dribs and drabs, with Ohio State announcing Wednesday that their summer classes through July 31 will be moved online.
“That’s down the road,” Morgan said, “and we are going to work like we’re playing Sept. 3 (against Florida Atlantic). We have to control the controllable (things) and prepare like we have a fall season. Whatever happens, happens. But that’s not up to us. That’s obviously being talked about by people, but first and foremost is the safety of everybody in our country.”