The Gophers moved true freshman Gaelin Elmore from tight end to defensive end this week, and it sounds like the Somerset, Wis., native is on the fast track for playing time.
“He won’t redshirt,” coach Jerry Kill said Friday. “I think he’s learning pretty quick, and that gives us a lot of size. He’s growing every day.”
The 6-6 Elmore is listed at 258 pounds, but Kill said he has gained at least 8 pounds already.
Elmore played tight end in a run-heavy offense at Somerset High School and led the team with seven receptions last year. On defense, he led the whole state of Wisconsin with 28 tackles for a loss.
He is the first Wisconsin native in several years to turn down a scholarship offer from the Badgers and head to Minnesota. Elmore has the skill set to play tight end, but the Gophers are deeper at that position than at defensive end.
Junior defensive end Theiren Cockran had 7½ sacks and 10 tackles for a loss last year, and senior Michael Amaefula has started 26 consecutive games at defensive end, despite making just one tackle for a loss last year.
Alex Keith (five tackles for a loss), Hank Ekpe (one) and Ben Perry (one) were the top defensive end replacements. Robert Ndondo-Lay, a spring standout, has been working at tackle, so Elmore will spice up the defensive end competition.
“He could have played tight end; I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Kill said. “But Gaelin’s up to 266-267 [pounds], somewhere in there. … He’s a big man, and he’ll get bigger.”
James opening eyes
The Gophers are deep at cornerback, but Craig James, a true freshman corner from Edwardsville, Ill., could see an immediate role, at least on special teams.
“Craig James has really played well, and it’ll be hard to redshirt that kid,” Kill said.
James delivered a bone-rattling hit to freshman wide receiver Melvin Holland Jr., early in training camp and continues to excel. But he’s behind Eric Murray, Derrick Wells, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and others on the cornerback depth chart.
“Craig James is the most advanced freshman corner that we’ve had here,” defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel said.
Their time is now
Kill still sounds reluctant to play his true freshman wide receivers, even though Holland and Isaiah Gentry, in particular, were viewed as potential immediate-impact recruits. Kill said he wishes the team could have redshirted wide receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones last year.
“I’d like to build for the future,” Kill said. “But at the same time, if we can get one of [the freshman receivers] ready, then we can certainly play them. But we’ll see how much they progress learning-wise over the next few days.”
Looking the part
The Gophers starting linebackers all weigh about 240 pounds. De’Vondre Campbell is 6-5, Damien Wilson is 6-2 and Jack Lynn is 6-3.
“I don’t know that there’s a better looking starting three in the Big Ten today,” linebackers coach Mike Sherels said. “All three of them look the part, and for the most part, they all play the part, when the time is needed.”