MINNEAPOLIS — In his mind, MarQueis Gray is a quarterback first and foremost. But if the former University of Minnesota star hopes to make it in the National Football League, Gray knows his versatility may be his meal ticket.
For his first two years on the Gophers football team, Gray was a wide receiver. He made 42 catches for 587 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010. But prior to his junior year, Gray transitioned back to quarterback, the position he played as a prep star in Indianapolis.
Then an ankle injury three games into his senior season changed Gray’s course of direction once again. A high ankle sprain against Western Michigan kept Gray on the sidelines for the next two weeks. By the time he returned, Gray was no longer Minnesota’s starting quarterback. That job fell first to sophomore Max Shortell and later to true freshman Philip Nelson, who assumed the role for the remainder of the season.
Following the ankle injury, Gray threw just 15 more passes the rest of the season. He was instead used as a receiver once again but had just eight catches for 89 yards in the final eight games.
Gray’s size (6-foot-3, 239 pounds) and athleticism may make him appealing enough for teams to take a flier on him as a possible late-round pick in the NFL Draft. His versatility and ability to play several positions makes him equally intriguing.
“I believe it worked to my advantage so far,” Gray said of playing multiple positions at Minnesota. “I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from quarterback and tight end and receiver. I think it’s helping me out in the long run.”
Gray was one of several former Gophers players taking part in Minnesota’s pro day on Monday. He was the only one who also participated in the NFL Combine late last month in Indianapolis. Still recovering from the ankle injury — Gray said Monday that it’s not 100 percent healed — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds at the Combine. That marked the fourth-fastest time of all quarterbacks. By wide receiver standards, however, Gray’s 4.73 wouldn’t have been in the top 15 times.
Gray bested his time in the 40-yard dash Monday, running it in 4.67 seconds. He didn’t take part in the vertical jump or broad jump, instead choosing to let his combine numbers (30 inches and 111 inches, respectively) stand as they were.
One of the biggest knocks on Gray as a quarterback has been his accuracy. As a junior, he completed just 50.7 percent of his passes. In a smaller sample size this year, Gray was 34-for-59 (57.6 percent) with just two interceptions.
Known more as a mobile quarterback — he led the Gophers in rushing as a junior with 966 yards on the ground — Gray is hoping he proved something both at the combine and Monday’s pro day by showcasing his arm.
“I thought he really moved around well. The ball really came out of his hand great,” said Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson. “I thought he really put good touch on the long ball. We had him throw some deep down-and-in routes, and I thought he hit the receiver in stride, so that was really great.”
Prior to the Combine, Gray trained down in Florida to prepare, meaning his ankle hasn’t had much time to rest since the Gophers’ season ended on Dec. 28 with the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Texas Tech. Now that the NFL Combine and Minnesota’s pro day are in the rear view mirror, Gray must anxiously await the NFL Draft in late April.
Can Gray play quarterback at the NFL level? Is he fast enough to play wide receiver? Could he make the transition to tight end? Those are the questions the league’s 32 teams will have to figure out between now and next month’s draft. Gray hopes he’s provided at least a few answers to those questions.
“That’s all I’m worried about, somebody giving me a chance to put on their pads and their jersey and I’ll go to work from that moment on,” Gray said. “Some coaches asked me about receiver, some talked to me about quarterback, some talked to me about tight end. I look at it as three ways for me to get in there. …
“I worked really hard all through my career to get to this point. I’ve had fun so far. Hopefully I keep going.”