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Minnesota Football: Gophers’ 2020 fall camp defensive depth chart

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The Gophers will need to replace seven starters on defense

Penn State v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Along with the release of the new 10-game conference schedule, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren also announced that programs have been cleared to start fall camp this week. Minnesota will need to replace seven starters on defense, so we take a look at what the initial depth chart might look like as the Gophers open camp.

Defensive End

Starter(s): Esezi Otomewo
Backup(s): M.J. Anderson

The changing of the guard on the Gophers’ defensive line starts with replacing three-year starting defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere. Esezi Otomewo is a player who has contributed in every game over the last two seasons, and I am very interested to see what he can do with the snaps of a starter. The defensive end position as a whole will be interesting, six of the nine scholarship athletes in the group are redshirt or true freshmen.

To be honest, redshirt freshman M.J. Anderson as Otomewo’s back-up is a complete guess on my part. It could be Anderson or maybe one of the true freshmen, like Gage Keys or Jah Joyner. There is a lot of uncertainty and inexperience at this position.

Nose Tackle

Starter(s): Micah Dew-Treadway
Backup(s): Jamaal Teague

Notre Dame transfer Micah Dew-Treadway is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, and he was very effective at absorbing blockers and clogging up the interior of the offensive line. Jamaal Teague is also an experienced back-up, as he played in all 13 games last season and recorded 16 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

Defensive Tackle

Starter(s): Keonte Schad
Backup(s): DeAngelo Carter

Sam Renner was a disruptive force up the middle last season, leading the team in sacks and ranking second in tackles for loss. Keonte Schad will have big shoes to fill at the three-technique spot, but he showed flashes last year of what he can do in limited action. Behind him I expect to see redshirt freshman DeAngelo Carter pushing for playing time, as he was named Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year at the end of last season.

Rush End

Starter(s): Boye Mafe
Backup(s): Thomas Rush

I will certainly miss Carter Coughlin for what he brought to the program, but I like Boye Mafe a lot. I think he can be a difference maker at rush end for the Gophers. Junior Thomas Rush is transitioning from linebacker to rush end, much like Coughlin did when he arrived on campus. Beyond Rush, the next man up would likely be redshirt freshman D’Vion Harris.

Mike Linebacker

Starter(s): Mariano Sori-Marin
Backup(s): James Gordon

For the first time since 2016, the Gopher defense will take the field without Thomas Barber starting at mike linebacker. Junior Mariano Sori-Marin will step into his role after playing in all 13 games last season, including seven starts when Kamal Martin was sidelined. He had a rough start to the 2019 season, but his performance improved with each game. Redshirt freshman James Gordon contributed on special teams last season and is expected to push Sori-Marin for snaps.

Will Linebacker

Starter(s): Josh Aune
Backup(s): Donald Willis

Kamal Martin graduated, and Braelen Oliver appeared to be the heir apparent to the starting will linebacker spot until he suffered a lower body injury in spring practice that could sideline him for most, if not all, of a fall season. The Gophers are pressing hard for Arizona grad transfer Tony Fields II, who would step in and become an immediate impact player at will linebacker, but for now converted safety Josh Aune is the presumed starter. Redshirt freshman Donald Willis, who saw action on special teams last season, will be his chief competition.

Cornerback

Starter(s): Coney Durr and Benjamin St.-Juste
Backup(s): Terell Smith and Phillip Howard

Coney Durr and Benjamin St-Juste will be one of the best cornerback tandems in the Big Ten, but it is the depth (or lack thereof) behind them that concerns me. Terell Smith is the team’s clear cut No. 3 corner as a former starter, but the offseason transfer of Kiondre Thomas, also a former starter, hurts them a bit. Redshirt senior Phillip Howard is probably the most experienced reserve at cornerback, but he is a converted wide receiver who announced he was transferring in January before reconsidering a couple weeks later.

True freshmen Miles Fleming and Victor Pless will be added to the mix in fall camp.

Slot Cornerback

Starter(s): Justus Harris
Backup(s): Solomon Brown

One of the toughest starters to replace on defense will be Chris Williamson, who made a home at slot corner last season. It’s a critical role on defense that requires a player versatile enough to rush the passer, stop the run, or drop into coverage, depending on the call. Justus Harris will get the first crack at it after serving as Williamson’s primary back-up last season. The senior defensive back hasn’t seen a lot of meaningful snaps in his three years with the program, and has struggled in coverage at times when he has seen the field.

Redshirt freshman Solomon Brown and true freshman Jalen Glaze are both expected to compete with Harris for the slot corner spot in fall camp.

Safety

Starter(s): Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin
Backup(s): Benny Sapp III and Calvin Swenson

Antoine Winfield Jr. leaves a big hole in the secondary, but the return of two-year starter Jordan Howden helps mitigate that to a degree. Howden will need to take Tyler Nubin under his wing, as the sophomore defensive back is the favorite to step into the other starting safety spot. Nubin has the talent to be a playmaker in the defensive backfield, but there will certainly be a maturation process. The depth at safety is also suspect, with junior Benny Sapp III and redshirt senior walk-on Calvin Swenson likely to start fall camp as your second-string safeties.