Junior college transfer Damien Wilson and redshirt freshman Jack Lynn have been in a lengthy battle for playing time at middle linebacker. While that battle remains ongoing, Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys gave the strongest indication yet on Sunday that Wilson will be the starter when the Gophers take the field in their opener Thursday against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium.
"Damien has played in a college football game before," Claeys said. "I think the first group … you'd like to be able to show the younger players how they're going to attack us before we get too many of them in there."
Claeys said he can envision using Wilson for the first three series of the game before the pair goes into a rotation. Wilson has primarily been working with the Gophers' top defensive unit in practice, Claeys said, though Lynn still gets reps with that group.
And, as always, nothing is certain until game day.
"Like I've always said, if [Wilson] doesn't practice well the next few days and Jack ends up starting, that's the way the ball bounces," Claeys said. "We don't decide until the morning of the game."
Offensive line update
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said three offensive linemen have separated themselves as starters — right tackle Josh Campion and guards Caleb Bak and Zac Epping.
Tommy Olson has been pushing Jon Christenson for the starting center job. Ed Olson is pushing Marek Lenkiewicz for the starting left tackle job, though head coach Jerry Kill said Saturday that the team needs to be cautious with Ed Olson coming back from major ankle surgery.
Jones in the mix
When the Gophers use a three-receiver set, their first unit will be Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte and KJ Maye. Limegrover said true freshman Donovahn Jones has been working in with that group, too.
"With that group of three of four guys, we're really starting to develop a comfort level," Limegrover said.