The Minnesota coaching staff added a slew of defensive players as the program secured nine players to sign their letters of intent on Wednesday. The list includes four linebackers including Ohio linebacker De’Niro Laster.
Minnesota’s defense was one of the better units in the Big Ten last season, but the lack of depth showed itself in the fourth quarter.
Cornerbacks Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter were consistent all season, while linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper regressed. The four will not come back next season and the same goes for DL Wilhite, who had 8 1/2 sacks this past season.
This year’s crop of recruits on defense have a chance to contribute on the field immediately.
Laster received late interest from Florida State, but he ultimately chose Minnesota. The outside linebacker is still new to the position, but the former safety has the speed to play at the next level. He comes in with one of the highest ceilings among commitments, but Laster is still a raw talent. The three-star recruit is listed as the 35th best outside linebacker in the nation.
Damien Wilson should enter campus with a swagger in his step. The junior college transfer was an All-American honorable mention at the end of last season for his Mississippi team. He is rated as the number one middle linebacker at the junior college level. Wilson could see the field instantly as a starter with two open starting spots left to be filled. He is also cousins with current Gopher David Cobb.
Wilson is currently enrolled in spring classes along with three other incoming players including quarterback Chris Streveler.
The other two linebackers that signed letter of intents Wednesday are Rayfield Dixon and Chris Wipson. Wipson is the lone member from Minnesota on Jerry Kill’s Class of 2013. The Eden Prairie native is unlikely to be fit for practice in August after tearing his ACL.
Dixon is a relatively new addition to Minnesota. On National Signing Day, he picked Maroon and Gold over Purdue, West Virginia, and others. He is one of three commitments from Florida.
Minnesota’s coaching staff had a lot of stress leading up to signing day in terms of defensive backs. Over the summer, St. Paul’s Keelon Brookins pledged his commitment to the Gophers. He later flipped to Wisconsin.
Nate Andrews and Nate Godwin decommitted in a similar fashion.
The staff was, however, able to secure cornerback Jalen Myrick. The two-star recruit joined the class in August. He is short and fast, but while Myrick does not have the offers of some of the other recruits in the class, it does not mean he lacks attributes. The athlete has great route recognition and could be a kick/punt returner at some point in the future.
Minnesota also added four players on the defensive line.
Jordan Hinojosa, a former commit from the Class of 2012, finally joined the squad in January after going to junior college for a semester because of grades. Hinojosa is a defensive tackle from Florida who originally had offers from Michigan State and Penn State. The defensive tackle has a high motor that should translate well in the Big Ten. If he is able to add some bulk to his build, Hinojosa could get significant snaps this fall.
The other defensive tackle in the class is Demarius Peppers. Peppers was another recruit who received interest late from programs such as Nebraska and Louisville. The three-star commit will likely redshirt in order to build into his frame, but he could see the field if Roland Johnson is unable to recover from an ACL injury quickly enough.
After Scott Ekpe gained significant playing time during his freshman season for the Gophers, his brother Hendrick decided that Minnesota was also his team. A former teammate of Rodrick Williams, Ekpe is a weakside defensive end that has pop after the ball is snapped. He had offers from Iowa and Northwestern.
The final member on the defense is Owen Salzwedel of Wisconsin. He was an early commitment for coach Kill. While he is not as flashy as Ekpe, Salzwedel is a solid run stopper that has the size to play at the Big Ten Level. His six-foot-five frame allows for extra drive off of his first step.