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Minnesota Football: Keeping up with what holes need to be filled and how

Who do the Gophers need to replace from last year and who are the likely replacements?

NCAA Football: Guaranteed Rate Bowl-Minnesota at West Virginia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It is pothole season. Fluctuating temperatures as we move from winter to spring to summer (not necessarily in that order) create often massive holes in Minnesota roads.

Gopher football is not immune to holes being created as the seasons change. And with the transfer portal it can be difficult to keep up with all of the changes. Who left? Why? Who is coming in? Are they the answer?

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Roster turnover is significant for every program today. But let’s look at the biggest holes needing to be filled for the 2022 Gophers. I’ll start with the positions needing new starters and then move to the depth spots.

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Looking strictly at starters here is a very quick look at who returns and who is no longer on the roster. A quick look at who started for the Wisconsin game at the end of the season...

QB - Tanner Morgan - IN
RB - Bucky Irving - OUT (transfer portal)
RB - Ky Thomas - OUT (transfer portal)
WR - Chris Autman-Bell - IN
WR - Dylan Wright - IN
WR - Michael Brown-Stephens - IN
TE - Ko Keift - OUT (graduation)
TE - Brevyn Span-Ford - IN
OL - Sam Schleuter - OUT (graduation)
OL - Connor Olson - OUT (graduation)
OL - John Michael Schimtz - IN
OL - Blaise Andries - OUT (graduation)
OL - Daniel Faalele - OUT (NFL)

DL - Thomas Rush - IN
DL - Nyles Pinckney - OUT (graduation)
DL - Micah Dew-Treadway - OUT (graduation)
DL - Esezi Otomewo - OUT (NFL)
DL - Boye Mafe - OUT
LB - Jack Gibbens - OUT (graduation)
LB - Marian Sori-Marin - IN
LB - Braelin Oliver - IN
CB - Coney Durr - OUT (graduation)
CB - Justin Walley - IN
S - Jordan Howden - IN
S - Tyler Nubin - IN

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Offensive Line

OUT: Faalele (drafted), Andries, Schlueter, Olson (graduated)
IN: Chuck Filiaga, Quinn Carroll

Here we go with the biggest offensive question mark of the offseason. There are 4 starters to be replaced along the OL. Fortunately JMS decided to come back after contemplating the NFL so at least we have 20% returning.

Two transfers from major programs are likely to be starting from the get-go. Chuck Filiaga is a Michigan transfer who has had an up and down career for the Wolverines. He is expected to start at guard. His ability to step in, start and perform at a high level is going to be critical to the offense. He was enrolled and here for the spring, giving him that extra time in the program to get ready for week 1.

Quinn Carroll is the other significant transfer. Carroll, an Edina native, is a former 4-star recruit who went to Notre Dame. He was not here for the spring, but is expected to be in the mix for starting tackle.

The internal candidates replacing the starters may very well be just fine, we don’t yet know. They are not exactly young, just inxperienced. Filling from within, you have Aireontae Ersery, Martez Lewis and JJ Gaudett in the mix at the tackle spots. Ersery has been receiving excellent reviews throughout the spring and is expected to start opposite Carroll.

Axel Ruschmeyer is the lone returner who is expected to start at guard opposite Filiaga. The problem is just that we are unfamiliar and really hoping that they are capable of stepping with being quality starters.

Level of concern is high. Just so many unknowns at 4/5 of the line after having the line so established and reliable.

Tight End

OUT: Ko Keift (drafted), Austin Henderson (transfer)
IN: Frank Bierman

Bierman comes into the program from Iowa Western CC and is expected to be the blocking TE/H-Back, essentially replacing Keift. The passing game should include more of Brevyn Span-Ford and maybe working in Jamison Geers. But Keift was a huge reason that the Gopher running game has been so good in recent years. Bierman is quietly going to be a key to the 2022 offensive ground game.

Level of concern, more than you’d think, but I’m not losing sleep. I just think we are going to miss Keift.

Defensive Tackle

OUT: Dew-Treadway, Pinckney, Val Martin (graduation) and Rashad Cheney Jr. (transfer)
IN: Darnell Jefferies, Kyler Baugh

Well, losing this many of your regular rotation from 2021 is a problem. Replacing this many snaps is primarily going to have to come from within. Darnell Jefferies has transferred in from Clemson, he does expect to play significant minutes. He potentially starts next to Trill Carter. Kyler Baugh is a late transfer addition from Houston Baptist. He committed on April 22, missing the spring. So we will have to wait and see how much he is able to contribute and earn reps in the rotation as a new addition to the roster.

Logan Richter has been around since it seems like the Tim Brewster days, but the big man is still on the roster and should see plenty of playing time, particularly on standard or rushing downs. Gage Keys is also in the mix here as well. Now in his third season in the program after redshirting in 2020 and dealing with injuries in 2021.

Then it comes down to which of the younger players step up and earn snaps. Deven Eastern is a kid who stands out among the position group. He is very large and played well in the spring game. I expect that he is one who will play a lot this fall and has an opportunity to turn into a very good player. Jacob Schuster is another redshirt freshman who will have an opportunity to find playing time.

This group is going to be an interesting mix of 1 transfer, a couple upper classmen and a couple young guys combining to replace a lot of production from what was a real strength of the defense a year ago.

Level of concern is on par with how I feel about the offensive line.

Defensive End

OUT: Boye Mafe, Esezi Otomewo (both to the NFL), MJ Anderson (transfer)
IN: Lorenza Surgers

The Gopher defense is replacing their rush and and the strongside DE. Probably the most concerning defensive unit.

In terms of the transfer market, Surgers is the one name coming into the program. He played 4 seasons for Vanderbilt and will be a Gopher for 1 more year. Last year for the Commodores he played in 12 games, recording 17 tackles and 1 sack. Certainly will be a part of the rotation, unsure if he’ll be starting.

Which leaves the task of back-filling for Mafe and Otomewo to internal candidates.

Thomas Rush almost certainly is your starter at rush-end. And he is poised for a breakout in his final season of eligibility. Sophomores Jalen Logan-Redding, Jah Joyner and Danny Striggow are all three going to be a significant part of the rotation. One of them (likely Logan-Redding) starting opposite Rush. But these names are important to 2022 and the next couple seasons.

Level of concern here? Hard to say. Mafe and Otomewo were consistent playmakers, both being drafted. The young trio of Logan-Redding, Joyner and Striggow will determine the level of success for this unit in 2022. Questions for this season and likely a strength for 2023.

Cornerback

OUT: Coney Durr, Justus Harris
IN: Beanie Bishop, Ryan Stapp

One starting corner and one nickel back down and 2 transfers coming in to compete with some of the other talented kids still on the roster.

Bishop comes to the Gophers from Western Kentucky where he was 1st team All-Conference USA.

Stapp is following in the footsteps of Jack Gibbens who came to the Gophers form Abilene Christian. A 6’0” corner who chose the Gophers over serious pushes from Nebraska and Mississippi State.

Both are expected to contribute immediately and they may both start, one at nickle and the other opposite Justin Walley.

My level of concern here is fairly low. Walley is poised to become one of the top corners in the Big Ten. And both of the transfers appear to be really good additions to the defensive backfield. And don’t forget about Terell Smith. Now in his 5th season of what has been an up and down career. Smith has plenty of experience, size, talent and speed. He has never quite put it all together but at a minimum he provides depth with upside.

Now we move from holes in the starting lineup to those holes in the depth chart. Less concerning but how these holes are filled still matter.

Backup Quarterback

OUT: Zack Annexstad and Jacob Clark (both transfers)
IN: Cole Kramer & Athan Kaliakmanis as incumbents. Jacob Knuth as a true freshman

The quarterback room is a little thinner than it was a year ago. It was always assumed that Annexstad would have taken the reigns if Morgan would have injured himself. But now it is a battle between Kramer and Kaliakmanis. Neither has really seen any game action, so it is a total mystery how they would perform in a Big Ten game. But we’re talking backup QB here, this will be a major question mark next offseason. Now we just pray that Morgan stays healthy.

Knuth will certainly redshirt.

Level of concern is almost none. Morgan is your guy, Kramer knows the system and Kaliakmanis has shown some very real promise.

Running Back “Spare”

OUT: Bucky Irving, Ky Thomas, Cam Wiley (all transfer portal)
IN: Zach Evans, Bryce Williams

Assuming good health to Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts, we certainly have the “pair” of very good starting caliber running backs. But with the announcement that Irving has hit the portal and is going to Oregon, along with Thomas to Wiley, finding the “spare” becomes more interesting. To date, the only incoming help is true freshman Zach Evans. He, along with Bryce Williams returning from injury, are your two primary backups. The good news is that Evans is an early enrollee and has been impressing throughout spring practices.

Level of concern is only coming into play if injuries mount again this season. Really excited to see Ibrahim and Potts carry the load this year with Zach Evans as your exciting newcomer.

Wide Receiver Depth

OUT: Brady Boyd, Douglas Emilien, Dylan Hillard-McGill, Peter Udoibok
IN: Ike White & Kristen Hoskins

The good news is that the four guys who saw the most action at WR last year are back. Chris Autman-Bell, Dylan Wright, Daniel Jackson and Michael Brown-Stephens are the names you should be most familiar with. But with the losses of Boyd, Mann and Emilien are going to put a dent in the team’s overall depth at the position. Stepping in will be true freshmen White & Hoskins (White was here this spring) along with Le’Meke Brockington Clay Geary returning.

Level of concern, low.

Safety

OUT: Calvin Swenson, Solomon Brown
IN: Coleman Bryson (FR)

Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin are going to be one of the best safety duos in the Big Ten. They were good last year and both will be back for 2022. Michael “Flip” Dixon was the primary backup along with Swenson. So most of the gang is back for 2022.

The real additions to depth here will be the young guys being a year older. Steven Ortiz Jr, Darius Green and even Jalen Glaze.

Level of concern, very low.

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Keeping up with the Portal is a challenge, but this is the in and out of how the offseason has affected the Gopher program. The season will be upon us soon, never too soon to get familiar with the new names.