Fall Camp '14: Defensive Line Preview

Go Gophers! Theiren Cockran led Minnesota with 7.5 sacks in 2013.
Go Gophers!
Theiren Cockran led Minnesota with 7.5 sacks in 2013.
Go Gophers!

Aug. 13, 2014

Follow Golden Gopher Football:    

It’s Aug. 13 and you have already read this storyline a hundred times: how will Minnesota replace Third Team AP All-American and second-round NFL draft pick Ra’Shede Hageman on the defensive line?

It’s a fair question, but it is almost important to remember what they Gophers do have instead of what they don’t.

Yes, the freakish Hageman is gone. He is now toiling with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons as a rookie – and Minnesota lost another great stalwart in Roland Johnson as well – but the defensive line should be just fine in 2014.

The Gophers return three starters on the line in seniors Michael Amaefula and Cameron Botticelli redshirt junior Theiren Cockran. The trio has combined to start 67 career games and has played in 102 games. Amaefula and Second Team All-Big Ten selection Cockran (led team with 7.5 sacks) patrol the edges, while the 6-5, 290-pound Botticelli helps clog the middle.

Amaefula, Botticelli and Cockran enter 2014 as the most experienced Gophers, but that doesn’t mean that others have not been tested. Minnesota has freely rotated members of its defensive line in and out during the Jerry Kill era and one would expect that to continue in 2014.

The Ekpe brothers – junior Scott and sophomore Hendrick – should see extensive action this year. Minnesota’s last two Outstanding Defensive Freshman of the Year award winners have played in 36 career games, with Scott seeing action in all 26 games of his career. Scott is now 6-4 and 293 pounds and could replace Hageman next to Botticelli on the line, while Hendrick, at 6-5, 251 pounds, can help provide some pressure off the edge.

Redshirt senior Ben Perry and junior Alex Keith also have a ton of game experience. Perry started 12 games as a freshman in 2011 and has played in 34 games, notching 32 tackles. Conversely, Keith has seen action in 24 games and her 38 tackles on his resume, including 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks.

Looking to make more of an impact this year will be redshirt senior Harold Legania, redshirt junior Robert Ndondo-Lay, redshirt sophomore Yoshoub Timms and redshirt freshman Demaris Peppers.

Legania and Timms have seen brief action, as Legania has played in four career games, while Timms has played in six. Ndondo-Lay looks the part at 6-5 and 250 pounds and could see his first action for the Gophers this year. The DeLaSalle High School product attended Winona State in 2012 before transferring to Minnesota. Peppers is from Memphis, Tenn., and was redshirted last season.

The Gophers also welcome four freshmen to the defensive line this year in Julien Kafo, Gary Moore, Steven Richardson and Andrew Stelter.

Coach Kill has gone on the record in saying that Richardson will play this year, calling him an “unmovable object.” The true freshman, who won a state title in Illinois at Mt. Carmel High School, has leverage on his side at 6-0 and 291 pounds. He had 34 tackles-for-loss and 17 sacks as a senior in high school.

Kafo, who is from Canada and speaks four languages, attended Vanier College last season and recorded 11 tackles-for-loss and five sacks. Stelter won a Minnesota state championship at Owatonna High School after leading his team to a perfect 13-0 record. Individually, he was named First Team All-State after recording 58 tackles as a senior. He set a school record with 12 sacks as a junior.

Moore projects to be another fine defensive tackle for the Gophers as he stands at 6-4 and 300 pounds. The Mobile, Ala., native made 57 tackles last year in school, which included 18 solo stops.

Now you know who is going to replace Ra’Shede Hageman (and Roland Johnson) on Minnesota’s defensive line.