Notebook: Lynn, Wilson both expected to see time at MLB vs UNLV
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MINNEAPOLIS - Since the onset of fall camp, Minnesota Gophers redshirt freshman Jack Lynn and newcomer Damien Wilson have been locked in a battle for the starting spot at middle linebacker.
But coach Jerry Kill doesn't see it as a one or the other situation.
"I don't think there's a battle," Kill said Saturday at his press conference in preparation for the Gophers' season opener Thursday against UNLV. "It's a battle for both of those guys to get better, because they're both going to have to play.
Fresh off his redshirt year, Lynn emerged throughout spring practice to a fair amount hype and praise from the coaching staff, while Wilson, who had just transferred in from Jones County Community College and was still adapting.
The competition between the two has tightened considerably throughout fall camp, making it increasingly difficult to determine who has the advantage until the season starts. The pair has alternated first team reps and have both been getting strong progress reports from the coaches.
With Wilson having gotten more comfortable in the Gophers' system, he could have a slight edge entering the season simply because of his experience at the junior college level. Lynn will be making his collegiate debut Thursday.
However, either way it is likely both Lynn and Wilson will have opportunities to make an impact in a position group that is the primary unknown on an otherwise strengthening defense.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has said he expects to use a six-man rotation (two sets of three) at linebacker in Game 1. Apart from Lynn and Wilson in the middle, that rotation is almost certain to include senior OLBs Aaron Hill and James Manuel, heralded junior college transfer De'Vondre Campbell, with it still be to determined how underclassmen like Nick Rallis, Jephte Matilus, De'Niro Laster and Chris Wipson fit in.
While only game action can do away with any lingering worries, four weeks of camp have made Kill more comfortable with the outlook at linebacker.
"That was a position I was concerned about," Kill said. "I feel good about the job we did filling some holes there that we need to."
• Junior starting cornerback Derrick Wells remains a "question mark" for the season opener, Kill reaffirmed. Wells has been slowed for the majority of camp with a shoulder injury. Kill mentioned that Wells had the shoulder issue in check this week, but then had his hamstring tighten up on him while trying to catch running back Rodrick Williams downfield.
Wells' status during camp has been downplayed by the coaching staff, but the possibility of him not playing in the opener is becoming an increasing concern.
"Hopefully he'll be ready to go, but that's a question mark," Kill said.
• Kill has not announced it definitely, but indications are that redshirt junior Marek Lenkiewicz will start at left tackle over 27-game starter Ed Olson. Since returning from offseason ankle surgery, the redshirt senior has battled to reclaim his spot from Lenkiewicz, but his adjustment back has been gradual.
"We have to be careful," Kill said. "In Ed's situation, he didn't go through spring ball, he's coming off a major surgery. He missed all of spring ball, where Marek and all of those guys have been playing. Right now he's pushing awful hard and he's a tremendous young man, but it takes time to get the feel of the game back. He's still working his way through that."
• The forecast for Thursday's opener is calling for possible temperatures in the upper 80s, potentially breaking into the 90s when kickoff commences at 6 p.m. With that in mind, Kill is prepping to use a large chunk of his active roster: "If it's 91-plus, we'll go deep," Kill said. "We'll have to."
• Saturday signaled the start of a typical game week schedule for the Gophers. They held practice in the morning and will practice regularly until holding a walk-through on Wednesday.
• Kill celebrated his 52nd birthday Saturday. He doesn't feel any different, but he sees the milestone as a way to play catch-up with a certain veteran Twin Cities media figure.
"How does it feel to be another year older? Well I just figure I get another day closer to Sid (Hartman)," Kill remarked with a grin.