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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Previews - Defensive End

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Boye Mafe leads a group that needs to step up their game

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 07 Minnesota at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With spring football practice at Minnesota under way after kicking off on Monday, March 29, we are breaking down each position group leading up to the spring game on Saturday, May 1.

2021 Defensive End Roster

Returning Starter(s): Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo
Other Returners: Thomas Rush, M.J. Anderson, Gage Keys, Jah Joyner, Danny Striggow, and Jalen Logan-Redding
Spring Enrollee(s): None
Fall Enrollee(s): Austin Booker

2020 Season In Review

Boye Mafe needs no introduction. The Hopkins stepped in for Carter Coughlin at rush end last season and was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention after leading the team with 4.5 sacks. He finished the season with 27 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. Mafe even started the season with a bang, recording a third down sack on the first drive against Michigan to set up a scoring drive for Minnesota:

Behind Mafe, Thomas Rush struggled. The converted linebacker made the transition to rush end last spring but didn’t get to spend much of the offseason working with his position coach. Last season was essentially trial by fire for Rush and he certainly got burned. Setting the edge was a glaring issue for the Gophers’ defensive line in the first half of the season, and while Rush was far from the only guilty party, he was often on the wrong side of several highlight reel plays:

On the opposite side of the defensive line, Esezi Otomewo drew the bulk of the snaps at the five-technique position, with M.J. Anderson occasionally stepping in for relief. Otomewo was solid if unspectacular, recording 15 tackles and one sack. He did flash some of his potential against Purdue, notching only two tackles but creating havoc plays off the edge. Otomewo can be a disruptive force against the run, but he needs to do so with more consistency.

All four members of the Gophers’ rotation at defensive end return. Mafe and Rush are entrenched at rush end, with only freshman Danny Striggow pushing them. Otomewo is the one who may want to watch his back, as Anderson, Jah Joyner, and Jalen Logan-Redding are all competing for playing time on his side of the defensive line. Gage Keys is not participating in spring practice due to an undisclosed injury, but he is expected to be ready to go for fall camp.

Spring Watch List

  1. Rush to mature at rush end. Criticism of Thomas Rush’s play last season was harsh, with many calling into question whether he has the speed and athleticism to succeed at rush end. Even though he was playing a new position, fans were not very forgiving. But failing is growth, and Rush will benefit from a full offseason in which he can work with rush end coach Rob Wenger to elevate his level of play from last season.
  2. Put the pressure on Otomewo. Minnesota has lacked a true difference maker at defensive end for years. That has to change if the Gophers want to field an elite defense. Esezi Otomewo hasn’t been bad, but he needs to be better. Hopefully competition from a talented group of freshmen can strengthen Minnesota at his position.