Gophers coaches have dropped big hints in recent days that at least two defensive linemen could play this fall – as true freshmen.

The Gophers need to replace two defensive tackles – potential first-round draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman and Roland Johnson, who was a key reserve.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is back as a starter, and junior Scott Ekpe should slide in next to him. The Gophers like to rotate at least four defensive tackles, so depth is critical. Sophomore Yoshoub Timms will see more playing time once his hamstring injury heals, and redshirt Demarius Peppers is progressing, too.

But the Gophers also have two defensive tackles coming this summer in Steven Richardson, from Chicago Mt. Carmel, and Gary Moore from Mobile, Ala.

“I’m going to tell you straight up that Roland and Ra’Shede -- pound for pound -- were our strongest people in the middle, and replacing them isn’t going to be easy,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said last week. “But at the same time, you’ve got two kids in there who took just as many reps and played awfully well and just didn’t get the publicity in Cameron Botticelli and Scott Ekpe.

“They will hold us up in the middle fine, and we’re going to have to rely on Shoobee Timms and Steven Richardson and Gary Moore and some of those kids to give us the depth in there. We redshirted Demarius Peppers, and I feel good about where that’s at.

“So there’s going to be some names in there that people haven’t heard of, and they’re going to be younger, but I feel like we cannot lose ground up front.”

Richardson is listed at just 6-foot tall, but he was 285 pounds, and the Gophers were ecstatic to get him. On National Signing Day, Coach Jerry Kill compared Richardson to Pittsburgh’s All-American Aaron Donald.

“Steve can run 4.7,” Kill said, of the scouting report he received from Mt. Carmel coach Frank Lenti. “And again, I’m going to believe it because he was at Mt. Carmel, and the last player I got out of Mt. Carmel – Jordan Lynch.

“Frank doesn’t tell you this is a guy unless he’s the guy, and this kid benches something like 400 pounds and runs 4.7.”

Moore also had some impressive measurables coming out of Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala. He’s 6-4, 285 pounds yet can reportedly squat 680 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds.

The Gophers also have two defensive ends coming this fall in Owatonna’s Aaron Stelter, and Julien Kafo, from the Montreal area.

“We’re bringing in four freshmen defensive linemen, and I think two of them will play, maybe three,” Kill said Thursday. “They’re talented. They’re all ready. One of them benches 400-something pounds, runs a 4.7, so I mean that’s going to create depth.”

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