MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Like Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Gophers’ staff carefully monitors the progress of its quarterback — Mitch Leidner.

He heads to the Citrus Bowl in Florida, ready to take another step. Leidner has grown in the fall of 2014, making strides at a position where you better be good.

“Over the last six or seven games, you’ve been able to see his leadership really take places,” said defensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. “It’s tough when you’re a quarterback and you’re not throwing for 300 yards a game. You gotta make those decisions.”

His progress has come with time and commitment.

“From the beginning of the season till now, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a player,” Leidner said. “I’ve been through a lot of different scenarios in games that I can learn from and continue to grow in my career.”

It’s what the team has needed from this position. You don’t have to throw for big numbers, just enough to keep a defense honest.

“He’s gotten better. He’s chipped away and it’s a hard position when you’re young and learning and so forth,” said Jerry Kill, the Gophers’ head coach. “But he’s gotten better, you know, every week and he’s worked his tail end off.”

Leidner’s physical skills have never been questioned. What he questions is his maturity as quarterback in terms of presence and the huddle. And does he put too much pressure on himself because he grew up a Minnesotan in Lakeville?

His demeanor means everything — to him and to his teammates.

“Not showing the emotion when you’re on the sideline no matter what the score of the game is, to always be consistent because what your teammates see in you is going to affect them,” Leidner said.

And win or lose the bowl game, he gave us this answer to a rather obvious question: Will he not shave his beard until he loses another game?

“I’m probably gonna shave it after the bowl game no matter what (laughs),” Leidner said.

The Gophers face the Missouri Tigers in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on Jan. 1. Kickoff is at noon.

Mike Max