Wells fills void by moving to cornerback

Junior Derrick Wells was a top defensive performer for the Gophers at safety last season.
Defensive Back Derrick Wells practices a foot skills drill during a spring football practice on Saturday, March 30, 2013, at the Bierman Field Athletic Building.
April 02, 2013

Derrick Wells was arguably the Gophers’ best safety last season. Now, he’s in a position to be the team’s best cornerback.

“He could start at safety, corner,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “He could probably come over and play wide receiver and start.”

Wells, a 6-foot, 206-pound junior with tattooed biceps and dreadlocks flowing out of his helmet, is making the switch from safety back to cornerback.

Though Kill has indicated Wells may alternate between the positions, Wells has practiced with the corners this spring.

“The big thing is just getting back comfortable,” Wells said, “’cause I’m used to being in the box, making a lot of calls. Moving to corner, I’m not making as many calls.”

Wells was an unheralded and undersized recruit out of Lehigh High School in Southwestern Florida. He weighed 160 pounds and had just two scholarship offers.

After a quiet freshman season at Minnesota, Wells bulked up to 205 pounds and moved to safety.

He recorded eight tackles and two interceptions in his first start last season, a 30-27 triple-overtime win over University of Nevada-Las Vegas. That performance earned him Big Ten and national defensive player of the week honors.

Wells finished last season as the third-leading tackler on a vastly improved Minnesota defense.

With seniors Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter graduating and plenty of depth returning at safety, the Gophers coaching staff asked Wells if he would move back to corner.

He said yes. 

Wells is spending the spring adjusting back to the position he played in high school.

The coaching staff seems to have faith that he will succeed at his old position.

“He’s got some great length to him, and he’s very fast,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “We won’t change scheme-wise, but we should be more efficient with him out there.”

A defensive ‘bell cow’

The Gophers coaching staff has lauded senior Ra’Shede Hageman’s work ethic and offseason improvement.

The 311-pound defensive tackle had a strong offseason in which he improved his athleticism, according to Kill.

Hageman benched 465 pounds, squatted 500 pounds and recorded a 37-inch vertical jump, Kill said.

Hageman delivered the highlight of Saturday’s practice — the first spring practice in full pads — when he pancaked 288-pound offensive lineman Joe Bjorklund in a linemen drill.

“He’s locked in,” Kill said. “He’s focused. This is the [most] focused I’ve seen Ra’Shede since I’ve been here.”

After recording six sacks his junior season, Hageman is trying to make the most of the time he has left at Minnesota — and hopefully draw the attention of NFL scouts.

Claeys said Hageman has the potential to be a force in the middle.

“Even last year, Ra’Shede, still learning the game, wasn’t truly a ‘bell cow,’”Claeys said. “Now he’s a ‘bell cow.’ People are going to have to figure out what they’re going to do to handle him.”

Notes

  • Wide receiver Jamel Harbison tore his anterior cruciate ligament last year during the UNLV game, but he’s looked comfortable this spring. The redshirt freshman is participating in practice but is wearing a green “limited contact” jersey.
  • With linebacker Mike Rallis graduating, the middle linebacker position is open for competition. Redshirt freshman Jack Lynn and junior college transfer Damien Wilson are the favorites to earn the job, and both have impressed coaches so far. The 234-pound Lynn has worked with the first-team defense, while the 254-pound Wilson has worked with the second team.
  • The Gophers have opened each practice with a moment of silence for former linebacker Gary Tinsley, who died of an enlarged heart last April.
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