MOBILE, Ala. – On the field, he’s the revered leader and the consummate competitor. Behind the scenes, those in Gardner Minshew’s football circle also describe him as the dogged student.
That didn’t change when Minshew got to Mobile, Alabama, this week for the Senior Bowl, where the Washington State quarterback is trying to do anything and everything he can to distinguish himself from seven other quarterbacks on site – and going to some pretty impressive lengths to do so.
One challenge for Senior Bowl QBs – rather, one of many – is picking up a new offense in less than a week. It usually isn’t the offense they spent years learning in college and often won’t be the one they have to grasp when they get to the NFL. But for a week in the presence of NFL coaches, scouts and executives carefully examining them, it’s imperative the QBs show at least some mastery of the offense they’ll be running Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
And Minshew decided to fast-track that process.
At the Senior Bowl, the WSU QB is playing for the South team coached by Kyle Shanahan, second-year coach of the San Francisco 49ers. For eight games this season, with No. 1 quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and backup C.J. Beathard inured, Shanahan’s starting quarterback in San Francisco was Nick Mullens.
Mullens and Minshew have a relationship that dates back to Minshew’s junior year of high school, when the Brandon (Mississippi) High QB took an in-state visit to Southern Miss. Mullens was a four-year starter for the Golden Eagles from 2013-16 before the 49ers picked him up as an undrafted free agent last season.
He’s been a handy contact for Minshew in the weeks leading up to the Senior Bowl.
“He’s actually helping me, giving me some of their stuff from their offense to give me a head start,” Minshew said. “So man, it’s been awesome to see him do so well this year.”
Mullens fed Minshew a handful of Shanahan’s plays via text message, giving the WSU QB an upper hand on the three other quarterbacks running San Francisco’s schemes this week in Mobile: Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson and West Virginia’s Will Grier.
Likewise, Duke’s Daniel Jones, North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Missouri’s Drew Lock are being coached by Jon Gruden and learning the Oakland Raiders’ playbook this week.
Because of his southern roots, Minshew followed the Atlanta Falcons during a successful two-year stint for Shanahan, then considered one of the league’s up-and-coming offensive coordinators.
“That’s when Julio (Jones) was having, what, 1,800-yard seasons just absolutely killing it,” Minshew said. “Matt Ryan’s MVP season.”
Minshew developed a rooting interest for the 49ers when Shanahan got to San Francisco, especially this last season once Mullens got the keys to the offense. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions, beating Gruden and the Raiders 34-3 in his first start on Nov. 1. Mullens won two more games and lost five as San Francisco’s starter, throwing for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season.
“In a lot of ways, we’re pretty similar guys,” Minshew said. “Didn’t have a whole lot going on out of high school, both about the same size. Both of us just love football, man, and just stayed in touch.”
The 49ers list Mullens at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. Minshew was measured at 6-foot, 224 pounds earlier this week by the Senior Bowl. Mullens only had midmajor offers coming out of high school. Not until after his second season at East Carolina did Minshew, a former Troy walk-on, attract Power Five interest.
Minshew probably won’t have to take the same roundabout path to the NFL – it may not happen in the first few rounds, but he should still be claimed in the NFL draft – but that could be the only place their journeys differ.
“Out of high school, he almost didn’t go play college ball basically and gets one offer from Southern Miss because his high school coach went there and he wasn’t supposed to be the starter there. Ends up starting four years,” Minshew said. “Coming into this year, he’s on the practice squad, he’s not supposed to play at all this year. By the end of it, he’s playing and he’s doing really well playing a high level. So, man, just to see that, it’s been awesome. I’m super happy for him.”
Mullens evidently tracked Minshew’s season, too. He gave the WSU QB a Twitter shout-out after Minshew led the Cougars on a winning drive to beat Cal.
A few months later, it’s been helpful to have a Shanahan pupil in his corner at the Senior Bowl.
“It’s a staff that’s definitely doing things the right way, and I’m just eager to learn from them,” Minshew said.