Minnesota’s opponents averaged 166.4 rushing yards per game, which was the second lowest amount in the Tracy Claeys defensive coordinator-head coach era (Gophers allowed only 158.2 rushing yards per game in 2013). Minnesota did this despite significant injuries to it defensive line, most notably to starting defensive tackles Scott Ekpe and Steve Richardson.
The Gophers, who have traditionally rotated their defensive line and at times played eight men a game last year, have 15 defensive lineman on their spring roster.
The most tenured of the group is Scott Ekpe and Yoshoub Timms, who are both five year seniors. Scott Ekpe started five games last season and played in seven. He made 15 tackles, which included 2.0 tackles-for-loss and recovered one fumble in overtime at Colorado State. He also missed five straight Big Ten games against Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin as he dealt with an injury.
Timms did not see any action in the first five games of the season last year, but was thrust into significant playing time as the season progressed. The Florida native started at tackle against Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Central Michigan and played in eight games. He impressed with 14 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.
Steven Richardson is a powerhouse of a tackle and is back after missing three games last season because of injury. The compact and explosive Richardson played in 10 games last season and started nine. He made 26 tackles and was second on the team with 8.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks. Richardson also batted down two passes last season, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble as he was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention by Big Ten coaches.
Hendrick Ekpe, Scott’s younger brother, is back on the edge for Minnesota. He started 11 games last year and played in all 13. Hendrick Ekpe finished the season with 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass breakups and recovered one fumble.
Because of injuries, Andrew Stelter and Gaelin Elmore were forced to play both defensive end and tackle last season. Stelter played in all 13 games and made 26 tackles, which included 13 solo stops. He also had 1.0 tackle-for-loss. Elmore played in 12 games, made 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and also broke up two passes.
Julien Kafo saw action in two games season as a redshirt freshman. He made his collegiate debut at Purdue and notched one tackle. He also made one tackle at Iowa.
Minnesota will have Gary Moore back this year as well. Moore played in four games and made two tackles in 2014 as a freshman. He redshirted last year, but shared Defensive Work Team Player of the Year honors with Winston DeLattiboudere.
Also looking to gain more reps in the spring are DeLattiboudere, Jerry Gibson, Mose Hall, Sam Renner and Kevin Lapham. DeLattiboudere redshirted last season and just turned 18 on Jan. 1, 2016. He shared Defensive Work Team Player of the Year honors last season with Moore.
Gibson moved from tight end to defensive end during the season last year, but did not see any playing time on defense. Hall redshirted last season as well and then moved to offensive line to start spring practice. He has since moved back to the defensive line.
Renner is from Maple Grove, Minn., and redshirted last season after he suffered a season-ending injury. Lapham joined during the season last year and also redshirted.
The Gophers also welcomed two new members to its defensive line in January in Merrick Jackson and Tai'yon Devers.
Jackson spent three seasons at Iowa Western, which included a redshirt season his first year. He was named NJCAA First Team All-American after recording 70 tackles and 7.5 sacks as a sophomore and also had 19 tackles-for-loss, forced one fumble and broke up one pass.
Devers played one year of high school football – his senior season – before playing one season at Georgia Prep Sports Academy. In high school, he totaled 36 tackles, 12 sacks, forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble and blocked a punt and a field goal.
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Check out some of the best off-the-field moments from Gopher Football in 2017 with this video recap!
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Vote O’Brien for Uplifting Athletes Award
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