Sandell: Gophers not shocked by recruit Nate Andrews' decommitment
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MINNEAPOLIS -- With National Signing Day looming (Feb. 6), the college football recruiting season has reached its nerve-wracking final stretch for teams.
The last days of the recruiting period can bring the possibility of last-minute defections, and the Gophers received one this week.
Defensive back Nate Andrews, who had verbally committed to the Gophers in early December out of Fairhope High School in Alabama, has opted to backtrack on Minnesota in favor of Florida State.
From sources close to the program, the Gophers had been informed on Monday that Andrews was decommitting, though reports of the 6-foot, 180-pound recruit's decision didn't surface until Friday.
Andrews made an official visit to Florida State on January 18, according Rivals.com. By Friday, he had verbally committed to coach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles. Reports indicate that Andrews had formed a close bond with Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, contributing to his reversal.
Andrews, rated a three-star DB/WR prospect by both Rivals and Scout.com, was being targeted to fill in one of the two empty slots left in the secondary by now-graduated seniors Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire.
The Gophers, like most teams at this point in the recruiting season, were on guard for potential decommitments. There was an obvious sense of disappointment about Andrews' reversal within the program, but the Gophers insist they already had backup plans in place in case a situation sprouted up. No specifics have been revealed on who those possible targets are.
The Gophers' class won't be making much noise at all in the national recruiting rankings come signing day. Rivals and Scout.com have the squad's current batch of recruits ranked last in the Big Ten.
But even in the wake of the latest developments, the Gophers remain happy and satisfied with the class they have.
Minus Andrews, Minnesota has received verbal commitments from 14 players, including offensive lineman Alex Mayes and running back Berkeley Edwards -- both three-star recruits.
While the 2013 season will mark the third year of coach Jerry Kill's seven-year deal, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys remain under contract for two more seasons.
After being given temporary one-year contracts when Kill took over the program in December 2010, Limegrover and Claeys were placed under three-year deals prior to the start of last season. Once Eric Kaler had took over as president of the University of Minnesota on July 1, 2011, negotiations of multi-year deals for the Gophers' coordinators and the rest of the assistant coaching staff were put into motion.
The arrangement became final shortly after Norwood Teague had officially replaced the now-retired Joel Maturi as athletic director on June 18, 2012.
Limegrover and Claeys are under wraps until the end of the 2014 season. However, contracts for the remaining core of the assistant coaching staff expire following the conclusion of next season. Those contracts, which were two-year deals, were put in place at the same time as those of the two coordinators.
Kill originally came to Minnesota under a proposed five-year contract, but had the proposal extended to seven years when he finally agreed to terms in October 2011. Kill receives $1.2 million annually, making him the lowest paid head coach in the Big Ten.
Purdue's Danny Hope had ranked lower than Kill in 2011, earning $950,000 per year, until he was fired on Nov. 25. Hope's replacement, Darrell Hazell, garnered a $2 million annual salary under his six-year deal. Indiana's Kevin Wilson has the conference's second lowest salary at $1.26 million per year.
In two seasons, Kill has put up a 9-16 record. But the Gophers are coming off a season in which they matched their win total from the last two years combined (six wins) and made the program's first bowl appearance in three seasons, although Kill's squad lost 34-31 to Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
When classes resumed for the spring semester on Tuesday, the Gophers had four new players on campus.
Incoming freshmen Chris Streveler (QB) and Hendrick Ekpe (DE), along with junior college transfers Damien Wilson (LB) and Jordan Hinojosa (DT), took advantage of the NCAA's early enrollment regulations and officially joined the team this week.
Largely a product of his position, Streveler has garnered the most attention.
Streveler, a versatile quarterback from Woodstock, Ill., enters a Gophers position group that will be high on youth entering next season.
Returning starter and soon-to-be sophomore Philip Nelson took over the top quarterback spot for the last seven games of the 2012 season. Nelson, who at half a season is the most game-weathered quarterback the Gophers have, has the full support of the coaching staff to enter next season as the obvious frontrunner to helm the offense.
However, he will have to fend off redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner, as well as Streveler.
With sophomore Max Shortell's decision to transfer in December, the Gophers' primary backup quarterback role is up for grabs. Leidner, who the Gophers redshirted this season, raised his profile considerably during the 15-practices leading up to the bowl game on Dec. 28, gaining recognition from offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. He is sure to factor into the QB mix in the year ahead.
But don't count out the possibility that Streveler could see playing time in his freshman season. Those prospects depend on how he adapts and performs in spring practice and throughout fall camp.
"Chris is the wild card," Limegrover said. "There's a learning curve, obviously. Now it's just up to the kid what part of that curve he jumps in on and how quickly he gets to where he wants to be."
Streveler was out on the Gophers practice field throughout the week, going over receiver routes and working through passing drills under the guidance of Nelson and Leidner.
Ekpe, the younger brother of current defensive tackle Scott Ekpe, is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end from Lewisville, Texas. He will come in on the backend of a defensive line that has gradually built up a young, but established layer of depth.
Among the Gophers' newcomers, Wilson appears to have the best chance to make a bid for a starting spot. As a linebacker for Jones County junior college, Wilson totaled 122 tackles last season - fourth-best in the nation among junior college players. With former starting middle linebacker Mike Rallis now graduated, Wilson is being eyed by Claeys as a possible replacement in the middle.
"He'll have every opportunity to do that," Claeys said.
The Liberty, Miss., native has two years of eligibility remaining.
Hinojosa was supposed to be a member of the Gophers' 2012 freshmen class, but his failure to meet academic standards resulted in the Kansas defensive tackle enrolling at Coffeyville Community College (Kan.). Hinojosa is eligible now and will join Ekpe on the defensive line.
Wells back to cornerback?
Claeys isn't anticipating as many defensive position changes as last season, but he said the team is considering moving sophomore safety Derrick Wells back to cornerback.
Wells played at corner as a freshman before being moved in the offseason to safety, where he has flourished. Finishing tied for third on the team in tackles (74), Wells played in every game this season, prevented from starting only twice as he battled through knee pain and a severe gash in his leg.
Claeys has not spoken with Wells yet about a potential move, nor has he decided if that is the direction he wants go in. But shifting him back to his original position would make sense.
With cornerbacks Carter and Stoudermire gone and a decent selection of players available at safety, the Gophers could use an experienced and skilled presence at corner. Keeping Wells healthy is key for the Gophers, and having the 6-foot, 205-pound defensive back on the edge may better his chances of staying off the injury list.
"That's one thing that maybe corner protects him more than safety as far as his knee goes," Claeys said. "At the same time, he works his tailend off. We'll make sure to sit down with him. I don't want him to do anything he doesn't want to do. He's a hell of a blitzer. I think we can take advantage of him more so in that regard."
Wells was used as a cornerback sporadically in certain defensive packages this year. He also took several reps at corner during practices in December.
• Redshirt sophomore running back Devon Wright may be shifting primarily to wide receiver. Limegrover said he is targeting Wright as an inside receiver, plugging him into a receiving corps that has struggled to find consistent threats.
"He may be a guy that really flourishes as an inside receiver, mismatch kind of guy," Limegrover said. "Because he is bigger physically than what you get a lot of times with a slot receiver."
Wright, who is one of the fastest options the Gophers have offensively, had minimal impact as a tailback in the last two seasons. He had only four attempts for 19 yards in 2011.
• Final decisions on any position changes likely won't be made until after signing day.
• Limegrover said starting left tackle Ed Olson told him early in the week that his right ankle is feeling "better than it has since fall camp." Olson missed four consecutive games in the latter part of the season with a high ankle sprain. Even when he returned to the lineup for the final three games he wasn't playing at the level he was prior to the injury.
"In the bowl game you could see where he wasn't 100%," Limegrover said. "Now he's got another month off that thing. He's back. He's feeling good."
• The final tweaks are being made to the newly renovated locker room at the Gophers' Gibson-Nagurski football complex. Gone were worn-down and out-of-date locker banks that filled what used to be a musty and stale room. They have been replaced with wood-paneled lockers that are hooked into an updated central ventilation system. Each comes equipped with a small HD screen that serves as a nameplate, which also rotates through pictures of the player who holds the locker. A 90-inch TV has been mounted on the back wall of the room, while several other TVs have been hung from the ceiling throughout the facility.
• The Gophers are scheduled to open spring practice on March 26.