Like the offensive line, the defensive line has lost some key contributors from this past season. Having highly effective players move on, especially if they are leaving early for the draft, is a good thing for your program. Finding someone to fill those shoes is the challenge.
The defensive line was one of the strengths of what was a very good Gopher defense last season. But when you lose 2⁄3 of your DT rotation and your starting DEs are both drafted, you are going to have some production to replace.
On the outside, Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo were outstanding last season, both were drafted. Along the interior transfers, Nyles Pinkney and Micah Dew-Treadway were also very good, both have graduated.
The other primary contributors were Thomas Rush and Trill Carter, both had good seasons as well.
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Minnesota ranked 8th nationally in run defense last year, allowing an average of 97.5 rushing yards per game, and their depth on the defensive line played a critical role in their success. But the Gophers now face the task of rebuilding in the trenches this offseason, with defensive tackles Nyles Pinckney and Micah Dew-Treadway graduating and defensive ends Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo pursuing careers in the NFL.
Replacing those names really is the primary question facing this group.
Starter: Thomas Rush (DE), Jalen Logan-Redding (DE), Trill Carter (DT), Deven Eastern (DT)
Depth: Austin Booker (DE), Danny Striggow (DE), Jah Joyner (DE), Lorenza Sturgers (DE), Logan Richter (DT), Kyler Baugh (DT)
There are reasons to be excited about this year’s iteration of the defensive line.
At rush end you have a guy who is coming off a season with 5.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs. Thomas Rush broke out last year as a versatile and dangerous defender for the Joe Rossi and the defense. He has played in every game since his freshman season, started 6 and will certainly be relied upon more in his 5th season.
Behind Rush you have redshirt freshman Austin Booker and resdhirt sophomore Danny Striggow. Booker has great size and his upside is very real as he gains experience and develops physically, he may be a very good player for the Gophers. Striggow has more experience and should very much be part of the rotation immediately.
Strongside is going to be a position battle between Joyner and Logan-Redding. Both players are in their 3rd season with the program but the 2020 season did not count toward their eligibility and both played in the maximum 4 games in 2021 to still redshirt.
Logan Redding has more bulk to him and is likely going to be playing your traditional rushing downs. Joyner will be part of the rotation, assuming he doesn’t earn the starting job outright. But then you will also see Vandy transfer, Sturgers also in the mix at strongside DE.
Looking at defensive end as a whole, there are 6 names here that should all see some action. We have a playmaker in Rush and then there is ample opportunity for others to seize the open playing time. The strong side ends should be fixtures there for the next few years and on the rush side, Booker and Striggow are going to get great experience this year to set them up for the next few.
Back to tackle where there really was a solid 3-man rotation last year, two of whom are gone. But Trill Carter returns and should be the guy who handles the middle of the Gopher defense. Last season he was 13th on the team in tackles, had 5 TFLs and 1 sack while being a part of the rotation. It was a very solid year for what was his second season playing and he has 3 years of eligibility remaining. Carter is going to be one of our best defenders over the next few seasons.
Lining up next to him is going to be one of two local kids. Logan Richter has seemingly been with the program for several seasons yet still has 3 years of eligibility remaining. The big man from Perham has a chance to start lining up over the center with Carter next to him.
The other option is Eastern who is a redshirt freshman and was rather impressive in the spring. The more agile and athletic interior lineman who should have plenty of opportunity to get used to Big Ten competition this year. There is a lot of upside with Eastern and hopefully, we begin seeing that on the field in 2022.
Kyler Baugh is a transfer from Houston Baptist. He will have 2 years to play for Minnesota and expects to be a part of the rotation. Expect Baugh to be that consistent and reliable guy who makes plays by being in position, not necessarily wowing anybody with his athletic ability.
Lastly we get a couple of unknowns who also could factor in this season. Jacob Schuster is a 2nd year player who has received some praise last year as a practice squad guy. And then Gage Keys is in his third year with the program. He did not see any action in 2020 and then was injured for the 2021 season. Both could end up contributing or even developing into playmakers.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
As you may have picked up, there are a lot of names here. After losing some key playmakers to what was a very strong unit a year ago, the Gopher defensive staff have several names who can step in.
A mixture of a a few names we know and love, plus some talented youth, along with a couple key transfers to provide some reliable depth...and you really have no idea what we are going to get.
Rush and Carter are going to be very good, I expect both will be playmakers throughout the season. But what happens with the other half of the line? This is where we have a lot of question marks.
Even if just one of the other 10 names mentioned above turns out to be reliable, consistent and makes a few highlights; this is going to be a very strong group once again.
Based on the fact that the team lost 2 guys who were drafted in the first 5 rounds and Dew-Treadway was a good player, this has to be a downgrade. I think the hope is that this entire unit is above average and with the bevy of young guys in the mix that this is a great strength in the coming years.
Brick Haley is the team’s new defensive line coach, replacing Chad Wilt who I think was really quite outstanding as a recruiter and a position coach. The good news is that this group has seen some very good recruiting the last couple years and there is some real optimism for some of these young guys. Can Haley get it out of them in 2022?
Can the Gopher DL be an upgrade in 2022? Or is it a downgrade?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE: So many names, so much opportunity
NEUTRAL: They will equal last year’s production and overall play
DOWNGRADE: You don’t lose that kind of talent and not take a step back