2012 Minnesota Preview – Defense
Minnesota CB Troy Stoudermire
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
It might not have seemed like it, but there was a good improvement on defense in the first year under defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. The pass rush that was the worst in the nation in 2010 was a bit better with more aggressiveness and attacking from the front seven, and despite some rocky performances here and there the D improved as the year went on. The back seven should be better helped by the healthy return of corner Troy Stoudermire and with Mike Rallis about to put up huge numbers at middle linebacker. Even though the pass rush was better, it needs to be more consistent and more dangerous with veterans on the outside and with a pair of quick tackles in Ra'Shede Hageman and JUCO transfer Roland Johnson inside.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Troy Stoudermire
Tackles: Mike Rallis, 83
Sacks: D.L. Wilhite, 3
Interceptions: Troy Stoudermire, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE D.L. Wilhite
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Roland Johnson
Best pro prospect: Stoudermire
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stoudermire, 2) LB Mike Rallis, 3) FS/CB Brock Vereen
Strength of the defense: Experience, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Efficiency Defense
Gone if the main man for the line, nose tackle Brandon Kirksey, but there's hope with JUCO transfer Roland Johnson coming in from Butler County CC to be the new anchor. At 6-1 and 295 pounds he's not all that huge and he wasn't conserved a superstar recruit, but he's active with a great motor and tremendous upside as an interior pass rusher. He'll work in a rotation with 6-5, 280-pound sophomore Cameron Botticelli, a big, active body for the inside who made six tackles as a reserve.
Trying to clog things up on the inside is junior Ra'Shede Hageman, a 6-6, 300-pound athlete with phenomenal quickness and athleticism. A top tight end prospect coming out of high school, he was moved to the defensive side right away and showed a glimpse of what he could become with 13 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He has the tools and the talent to become special, but he needs to bring it game in and game out.
The Gophers need more of a pass rush from the outside and that means senior D.J. Wilhite has to do far, far more after making just 16 tackles with three sacks despite starting nine times. A speed rusher with a great burst off the ball, he get blocked way too easily and he has to use his 6-3, 250-pound size and athleticism to be a dominant force. Backing him up will be 6-2, 245-pound sophomore Michael Amaefula, a nice-looking pass rusher who started four times in place of White making 17 tackles with 1.5 sacks.
Back on the other side is 6-2, 245-pound sophomore Ben Perry, a high school track star with outstanding speed and good size. However, he didn't do anything despite starting every game making just 15 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He has the athleticism, but he has to start hitting the quarterback to hold off promising redshirt freshman Thieren Cockran, a 6-6, 235-pound athlete out of Florida with high end pass rushing skills.
Watch Out For … Johnson. The line needs more interior pressure and has to get more production out of the tackles. Johnson might not be massive, but he's quick off the ball and he should be able to hit the quarterback.
Strength: Quickness. The coaching staff has made a concerted effort to get quicker and more athletic up front, but some of the holdovers from the old regime can move, too. The line has the potential playmakers to star getting into the backfield, however, there has been a problem with the …
Weakness: Pass rush. The Gophers weren't miserable at getting into the backfield finishing seventh in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, but the 19 sacks as a defense weren't nearly enough. The linebackers and back seven came up with most of the production, and now it's up to the veteran ends to start making things happen.
Outlook: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has said from the start that he wants to attack and be aggressive, and while things were better last season the pass rush wasn't strong enough and the run defense got beaten up way too often. There's a good mix of players, but the production has to come.
Unit Rating: 6
Gone is top linebacker and second-leading tackler Gary Tinsley, who was done after making 87 tackles and was off to the NFL before tragically passing away. On the field, now it will be up to senior Mike Rallis to move from the outside in and be the new tone-setter and leader for the front seven. The team's third-leading tackler with 83 stops with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, the former walk-on is like a beefed up safety starting out at 210 pounds and now getting up to 6-2 and 245 pounds. Tough as nails, he's a baller who gets all around the field and should be even stronger in his new position.
With Rallis moving, now it will be up to senior Keanon Cooper to be likely take over the strongside job after spending last season on the weakside after making 77 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss. He could still end up back at his old position with 6-0, 220-pound size and tremendous quickness. While he's not used as a pass rusher, he can move and he should be more productive now that he's past a wrist problem. He'll work in a rotation with Aaron Hill, a nice 6-2, 225-pound junior who came up with 26 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss. Able to play at either outside spot, he started twice last year and should be the first one off the bench if he doesn't take a starting job.
6-2, 215-pound junior James Manuel has a world of talent and athleticism, but now he has to shine on a regular basis after making 11 tackles. Built like a big safety, he's a great weakside option who should be able to get all over the field now that he's in a bigger role. Also in the mix somewhere will be sophomore Lamonte Edwards, a 6-2, 210-pound former running back who can run with great range making 17 tackles in his first year after moving over.
Will Brendon Beal be ready? The 6-3, 250-pound junior went to Florida as a Parade All-American, suffered a torn ACL and transferred. A five-star recruit, he was expected to be the key new star to last year's defense but suffered another knee injury. He has superior talent, but he has to show he can stay healthy.
Watch Out For … Manuel. It would be a huge boost for the linebacking corps if Manuel could shine on the weakside. That would allow Cooper to stay on the strongside and should give the Gophers an ultra-athletic corps.
Strength: Options. Even with the loss of Tinsley this is a deep group with a few nice options to move around where needed. The Gophers have plenty of athletes on the outside and Beal could be a key factor if healthy.
Weakness: Run defense. Minnesota got ripped up way too often last year with the linebackers making too many plays down the field. There's experience and everyone is tough, but now the corps has to prove it can hold up.
Outlook: The coaching staff did a decent job with the linebacking corps last season but it needs everyone to be healthy and needs Manuel and Cooper to shine on the outside. If Beal can finally get on the field and he's close to being back to form, then the linebackers will quickly become a strength, but that's asking for too much. Overall, the this group has to become better at making big plays.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The secondary has to replace do-it-all playmaking free safety Kim Royston, who led the team with 123 tackles, but junior Brock Vereen is a decent veteran who could end up moving over from corner to take on the job. The 5-11, 195-pound sophomore made 67 tackles with a pick and a team-leading seven broken up passes, but he'll have to move around a bit until he finds the right position. He has the smarts and the athleticism to shine no matter where he plays, but if he sticks at safety he could be a statistical superstar with his excellent open-field tackling skills.
The big boost to the secondary will be the return of corner Troy Stoudermire, a next-level kick return talent who made started out last season on fire making 24 tackles with two picks and three tackles for loss in just four games before getting hurt with an injured arm. The leading returning receiver going into 2010, he moved over to the defensive side and became a natural with stunningly good hitting skills and great coverage ability. At 5-10 and 200 pounds he has good size, and now with a fifth-year of eligibility he should be one of the Big Ten's best defensive backs.
If Vereen stays at safety, then JUCO transfer Martez Shabazz will get a long look at one of the starting corner jobs. The 5-11, 165-pounder is rail thin, but he can fly with great recovery skills and great ball-hawking skills breaking up 21 passes for Trinity Valley CC. He's a pure shut-down corner, while senior Michael Carter is a veteran who can step in and start almost everywhere making ten tackles in just five games. The cousin of former Gopher great and 1999 Thorpe winner, Tyrone Carter, Michael has similar skills and quickness to become a lock-down defender on one side.
6-0, 205-pound sophomore Derrick Wells is a corner who could end up working at strong safety after making eight tackles as a true freshman. A fast and versatile hitter, he's built for the job but could be a strong nickel and dime defender. JUCO transfer Brien Boddy came in from Coffeyville Community College where he was a top special teamer while finishing with 40 tackles with four picks. At 5-11 and 185 pounds he has decent size and can play anywhere in the secondary.
Watch Out For … Vereen. Where will he play? He's a natural corner but the coaching staff needs him to be another Royston. No matter where he plays he needs to be consistent and has to make teams pay for throwing his way.
Strength: Corner. Stoudermire is one of the Big Ten's best when he's healthy, and if Vereen is on the other side the Gophers should have as good a tandem as any in the conference. However, Shabazz should be able to handle himself right away if Vereen moves over.
Weakness: Big plays. The Gophers only gave up 2,600 yards and 10.9 yards per catch but they allowed 23 touchdown passes and allowed opposing passers to complete a whopping 67.7% of their throws.
Outlook: The secondary wasn't too bad last year and if Stoudermire can stay healthy then the production should be better. The coaches threw a few true freshmen to the wolves and now there's decent depth and there should be a solid starting foursome once the right combination is figured out.
Unit Rating: 7
NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne wasn't awful hitting 6-of-9 field goals, but he got hurt and was Wally Pipped by Jordan Wettstein, who nailed all six of his field goal attempts highlighted by a 51-yarder. The two can step in and produce, but it's Wettstein's job to lose after a strong finish.
The punting game was awful, finishing 105th in the nation with junior Dan Orseske averaging just 37 yards per try. However, he forced 20 fair catches with 12 put inside the 20. He's never going to blast away but he's decent at hanging the ball in the air.
Back is corner Troy Stoudermire, an elite kickoff returner who averaged 27.2 yards per try two years ago and 21.6 yards per try last year before getting hurt. Marcus Jones stepped in and averaged a whopping 28.5 yards per try with a score and will get every shot at getting more work. Receiver Brandon Green struggled last year on punt returns averaging a mere four yards per attempt on his six tries, but he was good in 2010 averaging 9.2 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Wettstein. Can he maintain the consistency he showed when he got his chances last year? For an offense that isn't going to put up points in bunches, the Gopher placekicker could be one of the team's key players.
Strength: It doesn't seem to matter who's returning kicks, the production is always there averaging 23.44 yards per try last season and with Jones and Stoudermire both dangerous with the ball in their hands.
Weakness: Punting. Orseske just doesn't get enough blast on his punts. The coverage team kept the returns to a minimum, and it's a low-risk punting game, but it would be nice to average at least six more yards per boot.
Outlook: The coaching staff made a night-and-day difference for the coverage teams, but now there has to be far more production from the punting game and more pop on punt returns. The placekicking should be outstanding.
Unit Rating: 7
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