Aaron Lavinsky - Star Tribune

Spring Spotlight: Five breakout players to watch on defense for the Gophers

With spring practice less than one month away, these five players could turn heads. Some can lock down starting jobs, others could offer the program quality depth.

Ray Buford

Ryan Burns - GopherDigest

Buford is a name Gopher fans have been hearing about since fall camp ended and he's a guy who has some big shoes to fill starting this spring. Losing two NFL corners in Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun gives Minnesota only four corners total this spring, so Buford's going to get a lot of reps this spring. The Southfield native has the physical traits with great length and height at the corner position, but has to keep that motor running each and every practice. 

Jonathan Celestin

Jesse Johnson - USA Today Sports Images

With Minnesota graduating future NFL linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, I expect junior Jonathan Celestin to have a big 2016 season for the Gophers. The junior linebacker is coming off a 43 tackle season, but I expect that number to double in 2016. Celestin is one of Minnesota's better blitzer's and tacklers in space, and I have have expectations for him starting this spring. 

Gaelin Elmore

Jeff Hanisch - USA Today Sports Images

Sounds like junior Gaelin Elmore will transition to defensive end full-time now after spending 2015 rotating between defensive tackle and end. Minnesota needs all the help they can get at defensive end with their struggle to rush the passer in recent years and Elmore is the front runner to start at defensive end spots for me. He's got the physical talent at 6'6" 265 lbs, but he has to keep working to reach that potential in his first potential full-time starter season coming. 

KiAnte Hardin

Aaron Lavinsky - Star Tribune

There may not be another player that has bigger shoes to fill for Minnesota than true sophomore Kiante Hardin with his job being to replace All Big-Ten corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun. That being said, Hardin is one of the Gophers I have the highest expectations for to make jump in play this off-season. The Webb City native played in every game as a true freshman and is my pick to be starting alongside Jalen Myrick in 2016.

Gary Moore

Ryan Burns - GopherDigest

After injuries forced defensive tackle Gary Moore to play as a true freshman in 2014, Minnesota was able to redshirt the Alabama native this past season and Moore earned Defensive Work Team player of the year honors. With defensive tackle a place where Minnesota struggled with big bodies in 2016, Moore should be able to step in this spring and continue off a strong redshirt season and be in the rotation this fall. 

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories