Kill touts Gray as his “most gifted athlete”

Minnesota quarterback Marqueis Gray talks with reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Mark Vancleave

Minnesota quarterback Marqueis Gray talks with reporters at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Samuel Gordon

CHICAGO — Sporting an air of comfortability, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill publicly confirmed what Gophers fans already knew âÄî MarQueis Gray will start at quarterback for the Gophers in 2011.

Kill said that Gray is âÄúno question, without a doubt, the most gifted athlete on our squad,âÄù Thursday at the Big Ten football media conference. He added the team needs him to play quarterback this season instead of wide receiver, and thatâÄôs what Gray prefers anyway.

âÄúIf MarQueis would have had a lot of quarterback reps, I think it would be scary where he’s at right now because he’s so athletically gifted,âÄù Kill said.

If minutes devoted to talking to a player is any indication, Kill is more excited about Gray than any other player on his roster. Part of that, though, is a product of media members around the Big Ten being yet unfamiliar with Gray.

Some Minnesota fans have been calling for the junior to start at quarterback for parts of the past two seasons. With the starting quarterback job comes the responsibility of being the face of a program, and Gray said he is ready for that role.

âÄúIâÄôm finally getting my chance to come back at quarterback. I havenâÄôt played a full season at quarterback since my senior year [of high school],âÄù he said.

âÄúItâÄôs just something I look forward to and I feel like with this coaching staff and this hard work weâÄôve put in through this summer, we feel like we should be able to turn some heads.âÄù

Gray has had to adjust to KillâÄôs offense during the past eight months — a system  with which he was previously unfamiliar.  The offense involves a lot of shifts, formations, and ways to attack the defense, but Gray said heâÄôs enjoyed learning it.

âÄúIâÄôve been having fun with it from the time they got here. I got the playbook early so I could get a head start for spring ball and I feel confident with it.âÄù

Senior running back Duane Bennett thinks Gray is a great fit in the new offense.

âÄúI think it bodes well for what [the coaches] are looking for. I think theyâÄôre looking for a dual-threat quarterback that can make plays in the passing game as well as make plays with his feet,âÄù Bennett said.

âÄúIâÄôm looking forward to what weâÄôre doing. We got a glimpse of what he can do in the spring and heâÄôs only going to carry that momentum over to the fall.âÄù

Kill has acknowledged the teamâÄôs lack of depth at wide receiver on multiple occasions and GrayâÄôs move from wideout to quarterback will further expose that this season. 

DaâÄôJon McKnight is an established go-to guy but other receivers will have to step up and Gray said that heâÄôs been focusing on improving chemistry with his pass-catchers.

âÄúIâÄôve had to develop the timing with those guys. We already know that DaâÄôJon McKnight is the go getter of the group,âÄù he said. 

âÄúNow we just have to bring out those other guys and let them know that making plays is okay, and that dropping a pass isnâÄôt going to be accepted. WeâÄôre going to hold them accountable just to make plays.âÄù

The development of the receivers — as well as GrayâÄôs ability to run the team — will dictate how successful the offense can be this season. Kill said heâÄôs comfortable with his quarterback Thursday. However, he joked Friday that heâÄôs only calm because he has no other options, saying that heâÄôs scared because he âÄúcanâÄôt [bring] Adam Weber back.âÄù

âÄúI think our big key is how we are going to utilize his talents at quarterback. I think that will be the key of what we have to do during two-a-day camp to make sure we can keep him healthy but also be able to utilize his talents.âÄù

While Kill appeared confident and comfortable talking about his quarterback, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema didnâÄôt name an official starter.

Russell Wilson, formerly of North Carolina State, made college football headlines this summer when he announced his decision to play his final season of eligibility in a Badgers uniform.

In his three years as a starting quarterback, the senior has completed 682 passes for 8,545 yards, 76 touchdowns. All would be career records at Wisconsin.

No Badger has ever passed for 3,000 yards in a season. Wilson has done it twice.

He was named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award (similar to the Heisman) and Davey OâÄôBrien  Award (best quarterback) and is a two-time All-ACC selection.

Bielema, who has claimed there is an open battle for starting quarterback, was asked if there was a serious chance Wilson wouldnâÄôt start.

âÄúYeah, absolutely,âÄù he said during his press conference Thursday. âÄúI was very open with Russell during the recruiting process. You will have an opportunity to come in and show us what you can do.âÄù

The other five quarterbacks on the Badgers roster have a combined total of 24 pass attempts.