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Abi Okonji, a highly recruited DE from Georgia, commits to Gophers

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck landed another verbal commitment from a player with several Power Five offers Saturday, when Abi Okonji, a defensive end from Georgia, announced he was picking Minnesota.

The 6-3, 240-pound Okonji is a consensus three-star recruit from South Gwinnett (Ga.) High School, who also had reported offers from Michigan State, Maryland, Mississippi State and Wake Forest, among others.

Okonji is the Gophers seventh commit for the Class of 2018, which ranks in the Top 15 in the latest 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Okonji announced his decision on Twitter:

Fleck committed to 4-3 defense, even with thinner defensive end corps

P.J. Fleck is committed to running a 4-3 base defense with the Gophers, and that hasn't changed, even with two holes now at defensive end.

One starting defensive end, Hendrick Ekpe, graduated, and another, Gaelin Elmore, announced Thursday that he was transferring. Ekpe and Elmore didn't compile big numbers during their Gophers careers -- 14 tackles for a loss for Ekpe, 9.5 for Elmore -- but they played big minutes for successful defenses.

Now, the two leading candidates to start at defensive end are sophomores Winston DeLattiboudere and Tai'yon Devers. Both made their presence felt as freshmen last fall, with DeLattiboudere making 3.5 tackles for a loss, and Devers making three.

All three of those for Devers came on electrifying sacks that forced fumbles. But he is still a young player who's growing into his frame, currently listed at 215 pounds. Ekpe was listed at 240, and Elmore 275. Until he fills out, Devers will remain somewhat of a liability against the run. This fall's schedule includes Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin -- teams that can flourish running downhill. 

With a slew of talented pass-rushing linebackers, the Gophers became more of a hybrid defense last year under former coordinator Jay Sawvel. They still had a 4-3 base, but incorporated the 3-4 more and more.

On Thursday, new defensive coordinator Robb Smith often had linebacker Carter Coughlin lined up as a rush defensive end. Other linebackers such as Kamal Martin, Julian Huff and Blake Cashman (who's recovering from shoulder surgery) figure to see time on the edge in this system, too.

"We’re going to put the best 11 on the field," Fleck said. "We’re still a 4-3 scheme. We will never go away from 4-3. Now, the type of personnel that makes up that 4-3 scheme, that can change a lot through the year. You are going to see people in a lot of different positions, so keep your eyes peeled for what we do and moving people around."

The Gophers should be strong up the middle defensively this year, with three senior defensive tackles -- Steven Richardson, Andrew Stelter and Merrick Jackson. Next year, Gary Moore will be a senior, and then there's ... oops. There isn't a current freshman or sophomore defensive tackle on scholarship. So Fleck's recruits will have to grow up fast.

"Our coaching staff knows we’re going to have to be incredibly creative this year and next year, where we’re going to get younger before we even get older, before we get better," Fleck said. "After this year, we’re going to actually get way younger, so we have to be incredibly creative to find the best athletes, the best players, the smarter players, get them on the field and put them in a position to be really successful."

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Vancouver at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at New England

    1 pm on Ch. 29, 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's hockey vs. Notre Dame

    2:30 pm on ESPNU, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Portland

    9 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Detroit

    11:30 am on Ch. 11, 100.3-FM

  • Boston at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Pittsburgh (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN

  • Timberwolves at Indiana

    6 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on NHLN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Tampa Bay (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • L.A. Lakers at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Ottawa at Wild

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Rochester at Twins (exhibition)

    11:05 am

Today's Scoreboard

  • NY Mets

    Atlanta

     

    - Bot 2nd

    2

    0

  • Philadelphia

    Boston

     

    - Bot 2nd

    0

    0

  • Washington

    Houston

     

    - Bot 1st

    0

    0

  • St. Louis

    Miami

     

    - Bot 1st

    0

    0

  • Toronto

    NY Yankees

     

    - Bot 2nd

    3

    1

  • Detroit

    Pittsburgh

     

    - Top 3rd

    0

    0

  • Boston

    Tampa Bay

     

    - Bot 1st

    1

    0

  • Cincinnati

    Chicago Cubs

    3:05 PM

  • Chicago White Sox

    Cleveland

    3:05 PM

  • Milwaukee

    Kansas City

    3:05 PM

  • Arizona

    LA Angels

    3:05 PM

  • Oakland

    LA Dodgers

    3:05 PM

  • Cincinnati

    Oakland

    3:05 PM

  • Chicago Cubs

    Colorado

    3:10 PM

  • Texas

    Seattle

    3:10 PM

  • Minnesota

    Baltimore

    5:05 PM

  • San Diego

    San Francisco

    5:05 PM

No NFL games today

  • Utah

    LA Clippers

    2:30 PM

  • Washington

    Cleveland

    6:30 PM

    NBA

  • Toronto

    Dallas

    7:30 PM

  • New York

    San Antonio

    7:30 PM

  • Minnesota

    Portland

    9:00 PM

  • Vancouver

    Minnesota

    1:00 PM

    FSN

  • Philadelphia

    Columbus

    1:00 PM

  • Calgary

    St. Louis

    6:00 PM

  • Toronto

    Buffalo

    6:00 PM

  • Chicago

    Florida

    6:00 PM

    WGN

  • Ottawa

    Montreal

    6:00 PM

  • Carolina

    New Jersey

    6:00 PM

  • Boston

    NY Islanders

    6:00 PM

  • Arizona

    Washington

    6:00 PM

  • San Jose

    Nashville

    7:00 PM

  • Colorado

    Edmonton

    9:00 PM

  • NY Rangers

    Los Angeles

    9:30 PM

  • Minnesota

    New England

    1:00 PM

  • Real Salt Lake

    New York

    3:00 PM

  • Portland

    Columbus

    6:30 PM