Gophers fall camp Day 12: Several key freshmen getting closer looks
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MINNEAPOLIS -- As Minnesota Gophers fall camp nears its two-week mark, depth chart decisions are starting to take form.
Saturday's full scrimmage, the Gophers' first of camp, was a key step in the process of sorting through the team's younger players and determining who has an opportunity to play right away this season or who will likely redshirt.
After evaluating the practice film from Saturday, the coaching staff pinpointed several freshmen who will get reps with the first and second team offenses/defenses on Thursday morning in the Gophers' second scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.
Among those who will be getting closer look are a pair of freshmen in the secondary. Safety Daletavious McGhee and cornerback Jalen Myrick both are being pinpointed as possibilities to work into the backend of the Gophers' secondary.
McGhee, who defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said has "played awfully well," has spent the majority of camp learning the defense with the third team unit.
The Georgia native hasn't been immune to the typical freshman learning curve. In Saturday's scrimmage, McGhee and fellow freshman safety Adekunle Ayinde were caught coming inside the defensive box too aggressively and were burned on a 70-yard run by freshman running back Berkley Edwards.
But instead of shaking his head at the mistake, Claeys saw it more as a positive that his incoming safeties were showing a level of aggression one cannot always teach.
"When they're young I just want to know if they'll bite, and those two kids will bite," Claeys said after practice Wednesday.
Coming in at 5-foot-10, 200-pounds, Myrick has the size to develop into a physical corner similar to what the Gophers have now in locked-in starter Derrick Wells. Myrick has also being playing down in the secondary as a nickel corner, given he has the physicality to go with the speed needed blitz in the way Claeys likes to do in nickel packages.
While the coaching staff won't make any definitive statements, freshman defensive end Hendrick Ekpe, brother of defensive tackle Scott Ekpe, is a pretty safe bet to not take a redshirt this season. Up close to 30 pounds from where he was in the spring, Ekpe has been gaining consistent recognition for his progress. Look for the Gophers to continue throwing reps his way.
Demaris Peppers, another freshman on the D-line, has missed some practice time recently due to illness, but Claeys still wants to see how he matches up against the top two offensive units.
On the offensive side, Edwards is making an impact, with remarks about his speed and an almost constant subject when the running backs are brought up. Coach Jerry Kill expects to slot him in with both the first and second team groups Thursday to get a firmer grasp on where he could fit into the game plan in backfield going forward.
A lingering question on offense is what Kil willl decide to do with freshman quarterback Donovahn Jones. The athletically versatile former high school standout from Stockbridge, Ga. has been slotted the Gophers' fourth quarterback in the early stages of camp behind Philip Nelson, Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler.
The desire in-house to shift him to wide receiver has been in play since the onset of camp. But the Gophers haven't made a move yet largely because they hadn't settled on whom their No. 3 quarterback would be. Apart from taking fourth-team snaps at quarterback in Saturday's scrimmage, Jones was seen for the first time being used out wide on a go-route.
Kill projects a decision on what position Jones will end up in will be made during the Gophers' two-day break from practice this weekend.
• Junior college transfer De'Vondre Campbell continues to be a "very pleasant surprise" at linebacker, per Claeys. Campbell is currently alternating reps with senior Aaron Hill on the weakside, but Claeys said he can envision a scenario where either Hill or Campbell could be moved to the strongside in order to have both in the starting unit.
But that would mean bumping out James Manuel, who has held on to the first team strongside spot throughout camp. Claeys has liked what he's seen from Manuel, but insisted the senior linebacker has to stay on that track.
"He knows he just has to stay consistent," Claeys said. "That's James' issue. He knows that."
• Kill went with toned down, shorter practice in the evening session of the Gophers' two-a-day set in an effort to keep the players as fresh as possible for the scrimmage Thursday.
• The Gophers' tight end/fullbacks unit is a bit banged up. Tight ends Lincoln Plsek and Alex Bisch, as well as redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Hartmann were all in orange no-contact jerseys Wednesday afternoon. Kill mentioned that Plsek would have likely played if the scrimmage had been Wednesday.
Bisch injured his foot and was wearing a protective boot over it. Kill said it is "too early to say" when to expect Bisch back.
Freshman linebacker De'Niro Laster, who injured his knee last week, remains out.
Junior cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder) is still being limited as a precaution.