With the tempo and pace of play the collegiate game is moving to, the importance of having an abundance of talented defensive linemen to rotate in-and-out is at an all-time high.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys and defensive line coach Jeff Phelps have 15 choices to mix and match for the best combination to disrupt the line of scrimmage. Seven of those players saw extensive action last season, each playing in at least nine games.
The undisputed leader of the defensive line is two-time All-Big Ten selection Theiren Cockran. The redshirt senior has been dependable, having played in all 39 games since 2012. Cockran has totaled 59 tackles in three seasons, including 18 for loss, and currently sits in 10th in program history with 12.5 career sacks.
The other regular returning starter is sophomore Steven Richardson. The 6-0, 291-pound defensive tackle was a force last season up the middle. Richardson tallied six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including a pair of sacks, in 2014. His best showing came in a Gophers victory over Iowa when the Chicago, Ill. native notched a sack and forced a fumble.
Brothers Hendrick Ekpe and Scott Ekpe both figure to play a key role on the defensive front unit this season. Hendrick, a junior, played in all 13 games a season ago and recorded 14 tackles with three for loss from the outside. Scott, a redshirt junior, suffered a season-ending injury in the opening game versus Eastern Illinois last year. S. Ekpe has 33 total tackles in his career with the Gophers.
Sophomores Gaelin Elmore and Andrew Stelter also return after playing in all 13 games as freshmen last season. Elmore, a 6-6, 266-pound product from Somerset, Wis., switched sides of the ball by moving from tight end to defensive end last campaign. Elmore excelled in his role, recording 11 tackles, one sack, one pass breakup and a forced fumble. Stelter also made a shift, but the Owatonna, Minn. native beefed up and lined up primarily as a defensive tackle in 2014.
In their final season with the Gophers, seniors Alex Keith and Robert Ndondo-Lay will look to cap off their careers with successful seasons. Keith had the best game of his career last season when the Columbia, Mo. native tallied four tackles, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and one sack. Standing in at 6-5, 264 pounts, Ndondo-Lay made 18 tackles in 13 games last campaign after transferring from Winona State.
Adding to the depth are redshirt juniors Justin Carr and Yoshoub Timms. Carr took a redshirt last year in his transfer season after coming to Minneapolis from Rochester Community and Technical College. Timms, a former four-star prospect, has played in eight career games and has had a positive fall, making a pair of tackles-for-loss in the team's open scrimmage.
Sophomore Gary Moore will also be looking to make an impact up the middle for the Gophers defense. The 6-4, 283-pound defensive tackle played in four games last year and made a pair of tackles.
The defensive line group is rounded out by a quartet of talented freshmen in Winston DeLattiboudere, Mose Hall, Julien Kafo and Sam Renner. As a class, the freshmen average a build of 6-4, 252 pounds without the benefit of a college training table.
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