Spring practice is kicking off around the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We're spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.
Minnesota needs a boost in its defensive midsection and looks for one from ...
Damien Wilson, LB, junior, 6-foot-2, 245 pounds
The Gophers have several holes to fill on defense, but linebacker stands out after the team loses two multiyear starters -- Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper -- and a total of five scholarship players. Both the secondary and the defensive line took significant steps in 2012, and Minnesota needs a similar upgrade from the linebackers, who performed decently at times last fall but didn't wow anyone. That's where Wilson enters the equation. The junior-college transfer signed with the Gophers in December, has enrolled and will be on the field when Minnesota kicks off spring practice March 26.
Wilson ranked fourth nationally in the junior-college ranks in tackles with 122 last season. He recorded six tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups for Jones County Junior College in Mississippi. Gophers coach Jerry Kill is excited about Wilson, telling ESPN.com last month, "We lost five scholarship linebackers a year ago. We've got a couple of good players coming back, but we really needed to address that need. I think we did a great job of doing that with Damien Wilson." He has an excellent size-speed combination, and his productivity at the JC level bodes well for Minnesota. Kill has high hopes for both Wilson and fellow juco linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who arrives this summer. Wilson gets a jump start this spring and should put himself in position to secure a starting spot.