The Gophers likely will be without one of their starting cornerbacks against Northwestern on Saturday. Derrick Wells is still recovering from the left hamstring injury suffered against Michigan.

Coach Jerry Kill said he doesn't expect Wells to play this week but added that this injury won't keep him out for much longer.

"We certainly need him," Kill said. "In the secondary right now, he's a valuable piece, and certainly when we play people that are going to spread the ball out and throw it."

The Gophers like their depth at cornerback. Besides Wells and fellow starter Eric Murray, they have Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who leads the team with two interceptions, and Jalen Myrick, who had a pick-six against Middle Tennessee State.

James impresses Kill

With senior Marcus Jones out because of a broken hand, the Gophers had true freshman cornerback Craig James returning punts at Michigan. He fumbled the first one but quickly recovered, and later delivered returns of 23, 15 and 32 yards.

Defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel has said James is the most advanced true freshman cornerback this staff has coached. With Wells out, James will see additional time in the secondary.

"He's a star on the rise," Kill said. "He can run. He's fast. You go catch punts in the Big House, that's not easy to do. He fumbled the one, but shoot, he jumped right back in there and had two really good returns. I think he's a weapon, I really do, and we're glad to have him."

Jones could return with a soft cast this week, Kill said, which would add depth in the secondary.

Lynn plays key role

Most of the talk about the Gophers linebackers' improvement centers on senior Damien Wilson and junior De'Vondre Campbell.

"I think it all comes down to Jack," Campbell said, referring to the other starting linebacker, sophomore Jack Lynn. After redshirting in 2012 and playing sparingly last year, Lynn has 25 tackles, tying him with Lynn for second on the team behind Wilson (51).

Lynn has 3 ½ tackles for a loss, which ranks second on the team to Cameron Botticelli's 5 ½.

Kill said Lynn "may be one of the most improved players I've seen in one year."

Tips from Harnish

After suiting up for the Vikings in Green Bay last Thursday, Chandler Harnish spent about four hours at the Gophers complex on Sunday, talking to Mitch Leidner and Co.

Harnish played quarterback for Kill at Northern Illinois from 2008 to '10, helping lead that program's resurgence.

"He's been with Coach Kill's staff before, so he knows some things that can be challenging," Leidner said. "Knowing he struggled and overcame some things early in his career is just something we all look up to. And being able to play in the [NFL] — we all look up to that, so he's a great resource to have."

Kill knows Harnish has good advice.

"He can tell [Leidner] what kind of pain in the butt I am," Kill said. "Chandler can tell him all the things to listen and not listen to."