Jerry Kill is looking to get his Minnesota Golden Gophers over the hump in 2013 and return the program to place of respectability in the Big Ten. He has the players in place on the offensive side of the ball to really start running his style of offense in year three, but he has some holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at linebacker. Kill is counting on JUCO transfer Damien Wilson to step in and become an immediate impact player for the Minnesota defense next fall.
The Gophers are thin at linebacker following the graduation of Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Last season, the duo finished No. 2 and No. 5 on the team in tackles, respectively, combining for 149 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and a sack for Rallis. They were key members of the front seven in 2012 and Kill was left without a clear successor to fill their roles. That’s why he hit the recruiting trail to find an immediate impact player at the junior college ranks.
Last season, Wilson finished No. 4 in the nation at the JUCO level with 122 tackles with six tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and two pass breakups. At 6-foot-2, 254 pounds, he has the bulk to stand up against the physical offensive fronts that will come his way in the Big Ten next season and was a major boost to the Gophers’ 2013 recruiting class. He showed the ability to catch on in a hurry during spring practice and set himself up to take on a major role in the defense next season.
If Minnesota hopes to take the next step under Kill, they will need their defense to be stout and hold opposing offenses out of the endzone. Can Wilson do enough to offset the loss of experienced playmakers until new ones can emerge?