Connect with us

Gophers Football

Minnesota Gophers Football Preview: A look at the 2016 defense

Published

on

A lot of the focus of media and fan attention this offseason has been on the offensive side of the ball for the Minnesota Gophers. Rightfully so, given a new offensive coordinator working under head coach Tracy Claeys.

However, change is also happening on the defensive side of the ball with Claeys taking on the head coaching duties and naming a new defensive coordinator to replace himself. That coordinator, Jay Swavel, comes with his own ideas and ultimately would like to work in a lot more 3-4 looks for the defense.

 

All of that change means plenty of questions for the Gophers defense — especially with a lot of talent gone off a very good defense in 2015.

What will the new-look defense be made of? Let’s take a look at exactly that…

 

Defensive Line

Minnesota’s defensive coaching staff has talked all offseason about getting more aggressive against the quarterback and creating more turnovers. Both seem to be helpful tools for any defensive group. However, that usually means having the tools up front to accomplish said goal.

In 2016, the Gophers enter the season missing both starting defensive ends and grooming a potential star in Gaelin Elmore. He’s spent the past two seasons working his way up the depth chart and appears to be the more athletic of the defensive ends on the two-deep.

Opposite of him is likely Hendrick Ekpe, a senior who has seen plenty of back up time and produced little. His highest tackle total came in 2014, when he put up 14 total tackles on the entire season.

That group is experienced, but will need to show they can produce on a much more consistent level.

Helping that group be more aggressive will be a group of intriguing defensive tackles including Hendrick Ekpe’s brother Scott Ekpe, alongside Steven Richardson.

What could be really intriguing is seeing how this defense become multiple like the coaching staff has discussed all offseason. One man who may help that happen is the big-bodied junior, Merrick Jackson. At 320 pounds, Jackson is the plug up the middle this group needs when going to that type of look.

Can this group find the motor to be more aggressive and get behind the line of scrimmage more? That’s the $1 million question entering the season.

Linebackers

Cody Poock is a name you better get used to hearing, because he may be the best defensive player Minnesota has on its roster in 2016. After all, he did rack up 99 tackles last season to finish second on the team. He also put up 5.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble as well.

With the team looking to create more turnovers and play more aggressive at the line of scrimmage that is his game. However, this also might be the deepest position on the field and a reason the Gophers might implement more of a 3-4 look to that side of the ball in 2016.

The chief reason for that lies in what the coaching staff saw from fellow inside linebacker Jalen Waters all spring long. He was a monster in the spring game, and that was the case the rest of the way. He may be good enough to force his way on to the field more often than not, so don’t be surprised to see multiple looks from the defense to get his production on the field.

Joining Poock as the likely starters at linebacker are junior Jonathan Celestin and senior Jack Lynn. The latter comes in with 137 career tackles and with an increased effort up front, Lynn could be intriguing.

The issue at this position is where will the sacks and the pressure come from. After all, this group of projected starters have a combined total of 2.5 career sacks at Minnesota.

Names like Nick Rallis and Julian Huff are ones who should also see plenty of playing time given raw ability (Huff) and experience (Rallis), giving this group a nice look to the depth chart.

Secondary

As much as the defensive line will miss starters from last season, so will the secondary. In fact, there are much bigger shoes to fill in terms of production and star power in the back of the defense than up front.

One name that seems to have stood out the most in a backup role last season and throughout this spring is cornerback Jalen Myrick. The senior was usually amongst the first names out of coaches mouthes this spring for his maturity and production level, but let’s see if that translates when the games are for real and against much different opposition than his own offense.

Myrick should be fine, and often times likely left on an island. However, the opposite corner from him is going to be a work in progress. Two sophomores appear keen on the position in KiAnte Hardin and Antonio Shenault, and Hardin appears to have the upper hand coming out of spring.

Youth is the name of the game with Hardin and Shenault, but don’t sleep on contributions from freshman Ray Buford either, as he is one of the most highly regarded freshmen on the team.

Luckily, whomever is opposite of Myrick is likely to get some help from a future NFL-caliber player in senior safety Damarius Travis. Fellow senior Ace Rodgers is likely to get the call next to him, and if all things remain like they were this spring it could once again be a tough group to throw on come the fall.

 

Our Projected Starters

DE: Gaelin Elmore, Jr.
DT: Merrick Jackson, Jr.
DT: Scott Ekpe, Sr.
DE: Hendrick Ekpe, Sr.
LB: Jonathan Celestin, Jr.
LB: Cody Poock, Jr.
LB: Jack Lynn, Sr.
CB: Jaylen Myrick, Sr.
SS: Ace Rodgers, Sr.
FS: Damarius Travis, Sr.
CB: KiAnte Hardin, So.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

Continue Reading
Comments

Football

Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut

Published

on

Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod. 

But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State. 

Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long. 

Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.

Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well. 

Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.

Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team. 

Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward. 

Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder. 

While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago. 

As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start. 

Continue Reading

Football

Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires

Published

on

Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.

A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.

While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.

The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.

The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.

The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”

Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.

Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.

“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.

Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.

It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.

Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.

Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.

Continue Reading

Gophers Football

Fleck smart to let QB battle play out in actual game action

P.J. Fleck continues to row the boat at his own pace, deciding on not one, but two starting quarterbacks for the season opener against Buffalo.

Published

on

What is better than one starting quarterback? Two starting quarterbacks.

At least that is the theory Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is going to test out for his first season at at the helm of the Gophers.

It’s a bold strategy (insert meme here), and one that hasn’t exactly worked out well for just about anyone in the past you say? Heck, even with two potential NFL draft picks it didn’t work out well for a program like Ohio State and a coach like Urban Meyer back in 2015.

The history of bad news coming with dueling starting quarterbacks heading in to the season hasn’t stopped Fleck from doing just that though.

It shouldn’t be surprising however. After all, P.J. Fleck is his own man, and many of the decisions he makes on and off the field demonstrate just that.

But, on Thursday Fleck made a pretty bold decision at quarterback — he’ll go with both Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda as starters entering the season.

To be fair, the two quarterbacks haven’t exactly separated much in fall camp.

To the outsider that could be bad news, but according to the head coach himself, it was due to both earning the opportunity on the field.

“Every time I think I see one nudging the other out, the other one closed the gap and passed him.” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “And they’ve continued to do that. That tells me this late in training camp that both of ’em deserve to play.”

Fleck also brought up a very good point in his talk to the media — neither have a wealth of game experience to draw on and that makes separating based on practice alone a bit of a crapshoot.

“If I was to tell you that I knew exactly how those quarterbacks are going to play in a game, that’s a guess,” Fleck noted, while also pointing out just how little game experience exists.

There is a grand total of 17 passing attempts in a game between the two of them and 15 of them belong to fifth-year senior Rhoda. He went seven of 15 for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Fleck is also thinking ahead with this decision, because we all know every team in America is just one big hit away from having to go to the backup quarterback. Why not get whomever that will ultimately be some game experience while sorting things out?

It was part of Fleck’s reasoning to the media on Thursday as well.

“If we think we can go through the Big Ten and not need two quarterbacks at some point, I think we’re crazy to think that,” he said. “We’re gonna need ’em.”

With a new energy and style around the Gophers program, it seems almost fitting that Fleck would buck most of recent history — whatever he wanted to claim about two-quarterback systems working.

For every Alabama in the past few years, there is an Ohio State or Wisconsin or others to show Fleck the dangers of a prolonged QB battle.

The hope has to be that the separation that didn’t happen in spring or fall camp does happen once the games go live. Otherwise this could be one interesting first season in Minneapolis.

Continue Reading

Football

WATCH: Gophers describe personality of 2017 team

P.J. Fleck says Rodney Smith is the personality of the 2017 Minnesota Gophers. So, what exactly is Smith’s personality and why is a fit for the Gophers?

Published

on

At Big Ten media days on Tuesday, Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck opened up the day by announcing that the personality of this team was that of running back Rodney Smith.

However, Fleck left that statement wide open to interpretation. What is that personality and why is it Rodney Smith? I mean, he is one of the best returning running backs in the Big Ten, so having him be the focal point of the team on the field is just smart.

So, curious as to why Smith was the one singled out by Fleck at the podium during his initial press conference, we went to his teammates to find the answer. They all seemed to have one common answer — happy.

Well that and plenty more..Check out the answers from Smith himself and his teammates. All that

and more from the highlights of Day 2 at Big Ten media days.

Continue Reading

talking10 Podcast

Most Popular

Copyright © 2018 talking10.com. This site is not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by the Big Ten Conference. It is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only and is no way associated with the NCAA, the Big Ten or any member institutions.