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Updated: August 17th, 2014 1:50pm
Which true freshman could play this year for Gophers football?

Which true freshman could play this year for Gophers football?

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
Email | Twitter

While no final decisions have been made, the Minnesota Gophers are starting to get a better sense of which true freshmen will play this season.

Coach Jerry Kill again praised freshman defensive back Craig James for his performance in camp thus far, saying "it would be hard to redshirt that kid."

Defensive tackle Steven Richardson has continued to be a surprise on the D-line. After he impressed the coaching staff in the team's first scrimmage last Saturday, it looks like he's already earned a spot in the D-line rotation.

"Steven Richardson is going to play, I can tell you that," Kill said.

Richardson is on the short side at just under 6-feet, but with his powerful 291-pound frame, he has been able to more than hold his own when up against upperclassmen.

"It comes down to if you have great strength and you have longer leverage," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "I think sometimes height is overrated in certain positions. And he does, he has great strength and he's very fast. I don't think anybody would guess ... He has the leverage to get off blocks and he has the explosion to create problems for taller offensive lineman."

Both Kill and linebackers coach Mike Sherels mentioned that freshmen Jonathan Celestin and Everett Williams are in the mix at linebacker and could have an opportunity to get on the field this season.

Kill sounded hesitant when asked about his two freshman wide receivers, Melvin Holland and Isaiah Gentry. The hope seems to be that both can be redshirted this season, but it could remain a fluid situation in the early half of the season, with the Gophers still trying to find consistent sources of production at receiver.

Notes

--Freshman Gaelin Elmore has switched from tight end to defensive end. With a 6-foot-6, 266-pound frame, Elmore has the makeup and skill set to fit in on the D-line. It doesn't look like he will have much of a transition period either as Kill said the team won't redshirt Elmore.

--There still is no clear frontrunner in the competition to find a successor at fullback for Mike Henry. Redshirt Jephete Matilus, who switched to fullback at the start of camp after three years at linebacker, junior college transfer Miles Thomas and redshirt sophomore Tyler Hartmann are all vying for the starting role.

Tight ends/H-backs coach Rob Reeves said none of the three have separated themselves yet in the position battle. With less than two weeks to go until the Gophers open the season against Eastern Illinois, the final starting decision could be a last-minute call.

--In 2013, Drew Goodger and Lincoln Plsek were consistently rotated in from series to series at the Y-tight end spot. Reeves expects to do the same thing with the duo this season.

--The top two spots in the defensive tackle rotation appear to be set, with two-year starter Cameron Botticelli and junior Scott Ekpe leading the way. Beyond Botticelli and Ekpe, defensive line coach Jeff Phelps said Wednesday there was a heavy competition for the available second unit spots, mentioning that senior Harold Legania was in that mix.

However, during his weekly radio appearance Sunday on WCCO-AM, Kill revealed that Legania has moved to the offensive line to give him a better chance at playing time.

With Legania no longer in the equation, the competition at D-tackle is somewhat clearer. Freshman Steven Richardson has made a strong push for a spot during the first two weeks of practice. He's vying for a place in the rotation with Demaris Peppers and sophomore Yoshoub Timms. Junior Robert Ndondo-Lay was recently shifted over to tackle from defensive end to add another element to the position battle.

Phelps plans to begin solidifying the first and second teams on the D-line over the weekend.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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