2010 Minnesota Preview – Defense
Minnesota S Kim Royston
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Minnesota Golden Gopher Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense might not be very good, but it might have the most interesting storylines of any in the Big Ten. Only two starters return, and safety Kim Royston broke his leg this offseason and Kyle Theret was suspended after getting nailed with a DUI. The middle linebacker situation was supposed to be solid, but Gary Tinsley was charged with drunk driving and fleeing the police, while Sam Maresh couldn't get to class and is academically ineligible. Co-coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ronnie Lee will have to use smoke and mirrors to come up with a good year, but there are plenty of good prospects to work around and there's lots of speed and athleticism to work with. The line has size, promise, and a few great-looking prospects in Ra'Shede Hageman on the end and Jewhan Edwards on the inside. Herschel Thornton leads a strong group of JUCO players to provide a boost for the secondary, while former safety Mike Rallis appears to be on the verge of statistical stardom at outside linebacker. The results might not always be pretty, but this defense will be active and will be all over the field.
Star of the defense: Senior S Kim Royston (if healthy)
Tackles: Kim Royston, 86
Sacks: D.L. Wilhite, 3
Interceptions: Kyle Theret, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Keanon Cooper
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Ra'Shede Hageman
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Jewhan Edwards
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Royston, 2) Kyle Theret, 3) LB Mike Rallis
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Line Size
Weakness of the defense: Middle Linebacker, Experience
Projected Starters: As the team's most versatile defensive lineman, Anthony Jacobs will work on the outside to start, but could end up playing on the inside as an athletic tackle. The 6-2, 289-pound junior was a spot starter last year on the end, seeing time mostly in the middle of the season, making 19 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. The top-ranked recruit out of Minnesota in 2007 is a perfect 3-4 end who'll be disruptive no matter where he plays.
Sophomore D.J. Wilhite didn't get a whole bunch of work last year, but while he saw limited time in 11 games, he still led the team with three sacks and came up with two fumble recoveries. However, he only made four tackles with his pass rushing doing the talking on the way to All-Freshman honors. The 6-4, 233-pounder is a speed rusher who'll be turned loose as a specialist.
At 6-2 and 333 pounds, junior Jewhan Edwards is a massive presence on the inside, and the sky's the limit. The coaching staff is fired up about his potential after making eight tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, and now he might be the type of tackle to work an entire line around. The one-time star recruit from Pennsylvania is ready to be the anchor of the front four as a run stopper as well as a huge interior pass rusher.
6-2, 295-pound junior Brandon Kirksey could end up being the leader of the line and one of the leaders of the defense with great character and enough time logged in to be ready to shine in a starting role. A key reserve last year, he made 16 tackles with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble showing off just enough quickness and all around ability to clog things up on the inside.
Projected Top Reserves: If redshirt freshman Ra'Shede Hageman isn't starting, he'll be off the bench immediately as a devastating pass rushing prospect. The 6-6, 272-pounder is tremendously athletic for his size with a quick first step and great moves to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Considered a superstar tight end prospect coming out of high school, he was quickly moved to the defensive side where he should blossom.
6-6, 303-pound true freshman Sean Ferguson was one of the team's top recruits this year and got to school early to be ready to play a role on the inside this season. Huge and long, he's tough to get around and has the frame that can add even more muscle to be an even stronger prospect against the run. He might not be a pass rusher, but he'll swallow everything up against the run.
The team will be counting on true freshman Harold Legania to see time right away. The great prospect from Louisiana had his choice of several BCS schools like Colorado, Ole Miss, North Carolina and Texas Tech, but the 6-3, 290-pounder has the raw ability to blow things up on the inside and grow into a brick wall against the run.
Watch Out For … the true freshmen. While there's a ton of excitement from the coaching staff around the juniors on the inside, Ferguson and Legania could end up being better in a big hurry. True freshmen will play a role in several areas on the team, but they'll be most vital on the defensive front.
Strength: Size. With the 289-pound Jacobs and 272-pound Hageman working on the end, to go along with the big bodies in the middle, sheer bulk isn't an issue for the Gopher front four. There's bulk in reserve to form a nice rotation.
Weakness: Experience. The 2009 defensive front wasn't all that bad against the run, and while there's a lot of room for improvement, especially among the pass rush, it'll still sting a bit to lose inside playmakers in Eric Small and Garrett Brown. There will be some rough patches this year, but the 2011 line has the potential to be dominant if everything works according to plan.
Outlook: The line might have to replace all four starters, but there appears to be a quiet confidence that the production will be excellent over time. Because of the size and because great prospects in Edwards and Kirksley were able to get in better shape and be what the coaching staff is looking for, the tackles should turn out to be fine, while Hageman, Wilhite, and Jacobs should be dangerous into the backfield.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: The linebacking corps needs something special to come from out of nowhere to help ease the loss of all the top players, and walk-on Mike Rallis might be it. The 6-2, 210-pound sophomore has to replace Simoni Lawrence on the strongside, and he appears ready to major playmaker after hitting everything in sight in spring ball. He's not all that big and is built like a safety, which he was to start his career making 20 tackles as a true freshman, earning a scholarship along the way, but he has to prove he can hold up after suffering a broken leg last year. Fortunately, it happened early enough for him to redshirt, and now he has three years to grow into the outside role.
If Gary Tinsley can get over his legal problems, he'll likely be the starter in the middle, but that's a huge if. The 6-1, 220-pound junior from Jacksonville has tremendous range and quickness, making 21 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss as a top backup and great special teamer last season, but he got charged with drunken driving and fleeing a police officer. Suspended this spring, he's still trying to get back in everyone's good graces.
6-0, 210-pound sophomore Keanon Cooper have a strong first season making 43 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss as one of the team's top backups. Very smart, very fast and very active, he's like a safety playing linebacker and he doesn't miss any stops and has the burst to get into the backfield from time to time. With so many concerns on the defensive front seven, he's going to have to be a steady producer.
Projected Top Reserves: While Mike Rallis might be entrenched on the strongside, sophomore Spencer Reeves will play a key role in the rotation and possible in the middle. He has 4.5 speed and sure-thing tackling ability, and now the one-time star recruit out of Texas has to use his range and his tools to make an impact after making just one tackle in his first year.
Sophomore Ryan Grant was a big high school quarterback who won two straight Minnesota high school state titles, but now he'll be a weakside linebacker. The 6-2, 219-pounder is a smart, tough player who has been well schooled; he's the grandson of Bud Grant. Now he has to use his athleticism and his upside to be a major factor behind Keanon Cooper.
Marcus Krien, your table is ready. The true freshman came to Minnesota without a set position, but the 6-2, 236-pounder might have to start in the middle sooner than later with all the drama at the position. He might not be the ideal fit, but he'll have to get a long look at time this fall.
Watch Out For … Rallis. He walked his way on to the team a few years ago and now he'll likely be the team's leading tackler if he can stay healthy. He has defensive back speed, a walk-on's fire, and great tackling ability. He might not be big, but he can play.
Strength: Athleticism and quickness. By design, the Minnesota linebacking corps is full of great athletes with beefed up defensive backs being used to make a lot of big plays. This might not be the tightest group because of its lack of size, but it'll be active.
Weakness: Middle linebacker. Sam Maresh was all set to become one of the feel-good stories of the Big Ten season coming back from a heart issue, but he couldn't seem to find the classroom and got booted. Tinsley will be a great option on the inside if he can get out of his legal problems, but that's hardly a sure thing. Considering Lee Campbell led the team with 119 stops last year, this is a problem.
Outlook: Uh oh. Minnesota littered the NFL Combine with linebackers working out, and now the group is starting from scratch with a potential nightmare in the middle. There's plenty of athleticism and good prospects in Rallis and Cooper to work around, but this could be a major weakness early on with no developed depth, three new starters, and no size whatsoever.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: Senior Kyle Theret is supposed to be a leader and one of the team's key defensive players, but first he has to keep his nose clean and get back in the mix after being suspended for the season with a DUI. The 5-10, 193-pounder made 73 tackles with a team-leading three interceptions and four broken up passes, and he has the ability along with the experience to be one of the Big Ten's better statistical safeties. Extremely quick and very physical, he doesn't miss an open field stop.
Senior Kim Royston finished third on the team with 86 tackles with a sack and six broken up passes, but he'll have a hard time getting back his starting safety job after suffering a broken leg. While he's expected to eventually be back, with the hope for him to be ready for the start of the season, that's hardly a sure thing. The former Wisconsin Badger has 5-11 and 193-pound size with a great combination of range, raw speed, and strength, but he needs to be 100%.
JUCO transfer Christyn Lewis is ready to start from Day One at corner. At 6-2 and 175-pound size and with tremendous range, he was a star recruit and a coup for the program considering he appeared to be a lock for BYU. He's versatile with good ball-hawking skills, and he's a strong open-field tackler. He could play safety if needed.
Sophomore Michael Carter got his feet wet last season making 11 tackles with a sack and two broken up passes, and now he'll be thrown into a starting corner spot. He's a rail-thin 5-11 and 163 pounds and has the raw ability to quickly become the team's best pure cover corner. His cousin Tyrone Carter won the 1999 Thorpe Award for the Gophers.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Ryan Collado is one of the team's most experienced defenders having seen starting time in four games at corner making 34 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. He'll either take over one of the corner jobs full-time or will work as a nickel and dime defender even though he's a bit small at 5-9 and 175 pounds. Tough for his size and very smart, he doesn't make many mistakes and can be used in a variety of ways.
JUCO transfer Herschel Thornton will see plenty of playing time and might be good enough to push Kim Royston out of a job. The 6-2, 205-pounder is very big, very fast, and very active getting all over the field in spring ball and lighting things up with big hits and bit plays. He's a great run defender who was an all-star for Lackawanna JC, and now he'll be a key to the safety rotation.
5-11, 180-pound junior Dwight Tillman combined with Herschel Thornton at Lackawanna JC and was a good ball-hawker. While he's not as big as Thornton and he's not as good, he's extremely physical for his size and could carve out a role as a fantastic nickel and dime defender if he doesn't take over one of the starting jobs.
Watch Out For … Carter. All the focus will be on the JUCO transfers and the safety situation, but Carter has the talent and the upside to be the star of the show holding down one corner spot. The other corner job is up for grabs, but Carter will be a lock on one side.
Strength: The newcomers. Lewis, Thornton, and Tillman provide an instant upgrade for the Gopher secondary that desperately needs more playmakers. These three can all play safety, nickel, and maybe even corner. Lewis and Thornton have to be on the field in some way.
Weakness: Royston's leg. Yeah, Thornton is good enough to step in and produce, but for a defense that needs as many players as possible, Royston needs to be 100% healthy by the start of the year and Theret has to be back in the mix and a leader.
Outlook: This should be the strength of the defense by default, but it could end up being good if everyone is healthy, everyone is off suspension, and if the newcomers are as good as hoped for. The secondary did a decent job throughout last year, even though it didn't face too many teams that bombed away, and it could quietly be very, very good. The stats might not show it, though, considering the defensive backs will have to do a little of everything.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Senior Eric Ellestad stepped into the starting job and was great … from inside the 40. He connected on 13-of-17 kicks nailing nine of his field goals from inside the 30 and missing all three of his kicks from behind the 39. He has a good enough leg to be used from deeper, but he has to prove he can actually connect from a reasonable range on a consistent basis.
The Minnesota punting game was fantastic last season, and now it'll be up to redshirt freshman Dan Orseske to take over for Blake Hauden, who averaged 42.6 yards per kick and put 23 inside the 20. Orseske was the starter and got nine attempts averaging 44.6 yards per try with three put inside the 20, but he was hit by a case of mono and ended up redshirting. He's back and healthy, and now he's expected to be one of the Big Ten's biggest boomers.
WR Troy Stoudermire is a next-level caliber kickoff returner averaging 25.8 yards per try two years ago and 24.6 yards per pop last year. He's explosive, consistent, and good enough to force teams to alter their plans.
Brandon Green will get the first shot to take over the punt return job from Bryant Allen, who averaged 12.2 yards per try on his six attempts.
Watch Out For … Orseske to be terrific. Minnesota finished second in the Big Ten and ninth in the nation in net punting, and Orseske would've been the star of the show if he didn't get sick. He'll step in and will be terrific in place of Haudan.
Strength: The return game. The Gophers only returned nine punts, but that was still good enough to finish first in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation averaging 14.67 yards per try. Stoudermire is a special weapon on kickoff returns.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. While the return game was terrific, the coverage team was among the worst in America finishing 102nd allowing 24.11 yards per try. The punt coverage team was solid, but that's mostly because Haudan and Orseske were so good.
Outlook: The move out of the dome to TCF Bank Stadium didn't do anything to hurt the Gopher special teams. The kicking game was excellent, and should be again, and the punting was strong, but it's the return game that's the team's real weapon. The kickoff coverage team needs to be stronger and Ellestad has to be better from deep, but everything else is fantastic.
Unit Rating: 8
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