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Five potential breakout stars for the Gophers this season

The Gophers are one week from their season opener against TCU, and we’re ramping up our coverage at StarTribune.com. This week, as an added feature, Chip Scoggins and I are unveiling a series of Top Five lists, looking at the Gophers and the national college landscape.

Check out Chip’s latest entries here. I’ve done “Five keys to the Gophers’ season,” “The Gophers’ five most indispensable players,” "The Gophers' five most unsung players," and now, here are five (actually eight) of their potential breakout stars:

1. DE Hank Ekpe

The Gophers need a better pass rush this year. Senior DE Theiren Cockran will do his part, but the biggest boost could come from having Ekpe healthy on the other side of the D-line. Ekpe was limited with a severe sinus infection last fall, but he's been healthy since spring practice and has been piling up sacks in practice.

2. RBs Rodney Smith/Shannon Brooks

Both of these two youngsters from Georgia could become go-to guys this year, with the Gophers looking to replace David Cobb (Tennessee Titans). Senior tailback Rodrick Williams will get the start Thursday against TCU, but Smith will definitely see action, and so could Brooks, as a true freshman.

3. LBs Everett Williams/Cody Poock

These two are battling for the starting middle linebacker job, as the Gophers need to replace Damien Wilson (Dallas Cowboys), who led the team last year with 119 tackles. Wilson was a force, but he had a tendency to drift out of position. The coaching staff actually thinks steady play from Williams and Poock could help make the defense even better.

4. WR Jeff Jones

Anyone who watched spring practice probably would have put Jones atop this list. After moving from running back to slot receiver, he quickly emerged as a go-to target. Beside his speed and shiftiness, he has excellent hands. He had a slow start to training camp and suffered a concussion, but he's back practicing now and remains a definite breakout possibility. 

5. WRs Melvin Holland Jr./Rashad Still

Maybe it's a cop-out to list multiple players at these positions, but I don't even think the team knows which young outside receiver will emerge first. With Isaiah Gentry out with a hamstring injury, and Desmond Gant a work in progress, Holland is the furthest along of those heralded redshirt freshmen. Still has been the most talked about of the true freshmen receivers, though Hunter Register looked excellent at times, too. There's plenty of impressive looking talent at receiver, but time will tell which ones pan out.

The Gophers' five most unsung players

The Gophers are eight days from their season opener against TCU, and we’re ramping up our coverage at StarTribune.com. This week, as an added feature, Chip Scoggins and I are unveiling a series of Top Five lists, looking at the Gophers and the national college landscape.

Check out Chip’s latest entries here. I’ve done “Five keys to the Gophers’ season,” “The Gophers’ five most indispensable players,” and now here are their most unsung players.

1. Jack Lynn

Last year’s headliner at linebacker for the Gophers was Damien Wilson, and this year, the one with the most NFL buzz is De’Vondre Campbell. But Lynn is a quiet difference maker who can play inside or outside. Lynn made 57 tackles last year, including seven for a loss, in his first full season.

2. Josh Campion

I highlighted him at No. 3 on my list of “Most Important Gophers,” so maybe it’s a contradiction to also call him unsung. But really, how much do general fans hear about this guy who has started all 39 games on the offensive line the past three seasons?

3. Miles Thomas

After walking on out of Butler County (Kan.) Community College, he stepped into the starting fullback job last year and did a solid job replacing Mike Henry. The Gophers are one of the few teams that still rely heavily on their fullback, yet I’ve barely written about Thomas.

4. Steven Richardson

The Gophers were hurting when defensive tackle Scott Ekpe tore his ACL in last season’s opener, but Steven Richardson filled the void as a true freshman. He started the rest of the season and finished with six tackles for a loss. Listed generously at 6-feet tall, Richardson is shorter than most Big Ten defensive linemen, but with his technique, he’s no less potent.

5. Peter Mortell

He’s the reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year, and his 44.3-yard punting average currently ranks first in school history. But I don’t think he’s done a single interview so far during training camp. The fifth-year senior has been quiet on Twitter lately, too, which is kind of a bummer, but he’s just going about his business.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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Today's Scoreboard

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    1

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