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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Defensive Line

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There is plenty of potential on the Gophers’ defensive line, but the question will be if they can live up to it

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in a spring game showdown at noon on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, weather permitting. Leading up to the game, we’ll be taking a look at the outlook for each position group.

Key Departure(s): Steven Richardson, Andrew Stelter, and Merrick Jackson
Key Returner(s): Carter Coughlin, Winston DeLattiboudere, Nate Umlor, Gary Moore, Esezi Otomewo, Tai’yon Devers, Royal Silver, Malcolm Robinson, Boye Mafe, and Noah Hickcox
Early Enrollee(s): Alex Reigelsperger

Replacing Steven Richardson, a four-year starter at Minnesota, will be no small task, both literally and figuratively. Merrick Jackson also started seven games last season, and Andrew Stelter was a key cog in the rotation during his four years with the program.

With Richardson, Stelter, and Jackson all riding off into the sunset, there isn’t much experience at the tackle position. Sophomore Nate Umlor, who started seven games last season at defensive end, has shifted to the interior of the defensive line this spring.

Redshirt senior Gary Moore has been held out of much of spring practice for precautionary reasons, but it’ll likely be a combination of him, redshirt junior Royal Silver, and redshirt senior O.J. Smith at starting defensive tackle this fall. Silver is a JUCO transfer who redshirted last season, and Smith is a transfer from Alabama. So fortunately the Gophers will have a trio of upperclassmen to lead the way, with back-up from Umlor, redshirt freshmen Malcolm Robinson and Noah Hickcox, and incoming freshman Elijah Teague.

The “R” end position will return after debuting last season, with junior Carter Coughlin holding down that spot. The hybrid role was created largely out of necessity, and while Coughlin performed well in pass rush situations, the lack of size on the edge left the Gophers’ defense vulnerable against the run. Expect Coughlin to slide back to linebacker on standard downs, with junior Tai’yon Devers then taking his place at the “R” position. Redshirt freshman Boye Mafe has seen second-team reps this spring at the “R” position.

At the opposite end of the defensive line, there is one name you need to remember: Esezi Otomewo. Coaches have been talking up the redshirt freshman defensive end since he first stepped on campus last fall. The last year of strength and conditioning has allowed him to fill out his 6’6’’ frame, and I’m excited to see what he can do on the field.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much depth behind Otomewo. Expect redshirt junior Winston DeLattiboudere to be the first man up, but beyond that the Gophers will rely on early enrollee Alex Reigelsperger and fellow true freshmen Mayan Ahanotu and Abi Okonji, if need be.

Next: Linebackers